Cationic amphiphiles, a new generation of antimicrobials inspired by the natural antimicrobial peptide scaffold

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2010 Oct;54(10):4049-58. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00530-10. Epub 2010 Aug 9.


Naturally occurring cationic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and their mimics form a diverse class of antibacterial agents currently validated in preclinical and clinical settings for the treatment of infections caused by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Numerous studies with linear, cyclic, and diastereomeric AMPs have strongly supported the hypothesis that their physicochemical properties, rather than any specific amino acid sequence, are responsible for their microbiological activities. It is generally believed that the amphiphilic topology is essential for insertion into and disruption of the cytoplasmic membrane. In particular, the ability to rapidly kill bacteria and the relative difficulty with which bacteria develop resistance make AMPs and their mimics attractive targets for drug development. However, the therapeutic use of naturally occurring AMPs is hampered by the high manufacturing costs, poor pharmacokinetic properties, and low bacteriological efficacy in animal models. In order to overcome these problems, a variety of novel and structurally diverse cationic amphiphiles that mimic the amphiphilic topology of AMPs have recently appeared. Many of these compounds exhibit superior pharmacokinetic properties and reduced in vitro toxicity while retaining potent antibacterial activity against resistant and nonresistant bacteria. In summary, cationic amphiphiles promise to provide a new and rich source of diverse antibacterial lead structures in the years to come.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / chemistry*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Hemolysis / drug effects
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Molecular Structure
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry*
  • Surface-Active Agents / pharmacology


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Surface-Active Agents