Hepcidin 25 (hep-25) is a peptide primarily produced by human liver with a central role in iron homeostasis. Its isoform, hepcidin 20 (hep-20), has an unknown function and lacks the first five aminoacids of the amino-terminal portion. This sequence is crucial for iron regulation by hep-25 and contains a molecular motif able to bind metals. Aim of this study, was to evaluate the antibacterial properties of both peptides in vitro, against a wide range of bacterial clinical isolates and in different experimental conditions. Although both peptides were found to be bactericidal against a variety of clinical isolates with different antibiotic resistance profiles, hep-20 was active at lower concentrations than hep-25, in most of the cases. Killing kinetics, carried on in sodium-phosphate buffer at pH 7.4, demonstrated that bactericidal activity occurred not earlier than 30-90 min of incubation. Bactericidal activity of hep-25 was slightly enhanced in the presence of copper, while the same metal did not affect the activity of hep-20. Interestingly, bactericidal activity of both hepcidins was highly enhanced at acidic pH. Acidic pH (pH 5.0 and 6.6) not only reduced the microbicidal concentrations of hepcidins, but also shortened the killing times of both peptides, as compared to pH 7.4. Combining hep-20 and hep-25 at pH 5.0 a bactericidal effect could be obtained at very low concentrations of both peptides. These results render hepcidins interesting for the design of new drugs for the treatment of infections occurring in body districts with physiologic acidic pH.
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