Mode of action of membrane active antimicrobial peptides

Biopolymers. 2002;66(4):236-48. doi: 10.1002/bip.10260.


Water-membrane soluble protein and peptide toxins are used in the defense and offense systems of all organisms, including plants and humans. A major group includes antimicrobial peptides, which serve as a nonspecific defense system that complements the highly specific cell-mediated immune response. The increasing resistance of bacteria to conventional antibiotics stimulated the isolation and characterization of many antimicrobial peptides for potential use as new target antibiotics. The finding of thousands of antimicrobial peptides with variable lengths and sequences, all of which are active at similar concentrations, suggests a general mechanism for killing bacteria rather than a specific mechanism that requires preferred active structures. Such a mechanism is in agreement with the "carpet model" that does not require any specific structure or sequence. It seems that when there is an appropriate balance between hydrophobicity and a net positive charge the peptides are active on bacteria. However, selective activity depends also on other parameters, such as the volume of the molecule, its structure, and its oligomeric state in solution and membranes. Further, although many studies support that bacterial membrane damage is a lethal event for bacteria, other studies point to a multihit mechanism in which the peptide binds to several targets in the cytoplasmic region of the bacteria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Humans
  • Peptides*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Peptides
  • Receptors, Cell Surface