Antimicrobial peptides: premises and promises

Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2004 Dec;24(6):536-47. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2004.09.005.


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are an important component of the natural defences of most living organisms against invading pathogens. These are relatively small (< 10kDa), cationic and amphipathic peptides of variable length, sequence and structure. During the past two decades several AMPs have been isolated from a wide variety of animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates, and plants as well as from bacteria and fungi. Most of these peptides are obtained from different sources like macrophages, neutrophils, epithelial cells, haemocytes, fat body, reproductive tract, etc. These peptides exhibit broad-spectrum activity against a wide range of microorganisms including Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, protozoa, yeast, fungi and viruses. A few peptides have also been found to be cytotoxic to sperm and tumour cells. AMPs are classified based on the three dimensional structural studies carried out with the help of NMR. The peptides are broadly classified into five major groups namely (a) peptides that form alpha-helical structures, (b) peptides rich in cysteine residues, (c) peptides that form beta-sheet, (d) peptides rich in regular amino acids namely histatin, arginine and proline and (e) peptides composed of rare and modified amino acids. Most of these peptides are believed to act by disrupting the plasma membrane leading to the lysis of the cell. AMPs have been found to be excellent candidates for developing novel antimicrobial agents and a few of these peptides show antimicrobial activity against pathogens causing sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV/HSV. Peptides, namely magainin and nisin have been shown to demonstrate contraceptive properties in vitro and in vivo. A few peptides have already entered clinical trials for the treatment of impetigo, diabetic foot ulcers and gastric helicobacter infections. In this review, we discuss the source, structures and mode of action with special reference to therapeutic considerations of various AMPs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / classification
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Peptides*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / drug therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Peptides