Properties of cytotoxic peptide-formed ion channels

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2000 Jun;278(6):C1063-87. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.2000.278.6.C1063.


Cytotoxic peptides are relatively small cationic molecules such as those found 1) in venoms, e.g., melittin in bee, scorpion toxins in scorpion, pilosulin 1 in jumper ant, and lycotoxin I and II in wolf spider; 2) in skin secretions (e.g., magainin I and II from Xenopus laevis, dermaseptin from frog, antimicrobials from carp) and cells of the immune system (e.g., insect, scorpion, and mammalian defensins and cryptdins); 3) as autocytotoxicity peptides, e.g., amylin cytotoxic to pancreatic beta-cells, prion peptide fragment 106-126 [PrP-(106-126)], and amyloid beta-protein (AbetaP) cytotoxic to neurons; and 4) as designed synthetic peptides based on the sequences and properties of naturally occurring cytotoxic peptides. The small cytotoxic peptides are composed of beta-sheets, e.g., mammalian defensins, AbetaP, amylin, and PrP-(106-126), whereas the larger cytotoxic peptides have several domains composed of both alpha-helices and beta-sheets stabilized by cysteine bonds, e.g., scorpion toxins, scorpion, and insect defensins. Electrophysiological and molecular biology techniques indicate that these structures modify cell membranes via 1) interaction with intrinsic ion transport proteins and/or 2) formation of ion channels. These two nonexclusive mechanisms of action lead to changes in second messenger systems that further augment the abnormal electrical activity and distortion of the signal transduction causing cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / chemistry
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Peptides / physiology*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Venoms / chemistry*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Ion Channels
  • Peptides
  • Venoms