Studies on anticancer activities of antimicrobial peptides

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Feb;1778(2):357-75. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2007.11.008. Epub 2007 Nov 22.


In spite of great advances in cancer therapy, there is considerable current interest in developing anticancer agents with a new mode of action because of the development of resistance by cancer cells towards current anticancer drugs. A growing number of studies have shown that some of the cationic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), which are toxic to bacteria but not to normal mammalian cells, exhibit a broad spectrum of cytotoxic activity against cancer cells. Such studies have considerably enhanced the significance of AMPs, both synthetic and from natural sources, which have been of importance both for an increased understanding of the immune system and for their potential as clinical antibiotics. The electrostatic attraction between the negatively charged components of bacterial and cancer cells and the positively charged AMPs is believed to play a major role in the strong binding and selective disruption of bacterial and cancer cell membranes, respectively. However, it is unclear why some host defense peptides are able to kill cancer cells when others do not. In addition, it is not clear whether the molecular mechanism(s) underlying the antibacterial and anticancer activities of AMPs are the same or different. In this article, we review various studies on different AMPs that exhibit cytotoxic activity against cancer cells. The suitability of cancer cell-targeting AMPs as cancer therapeutics is also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Peptides