The actions of melittin on membranes

Biochim Biophys Acta. 1990 May 7;1031(2):143-61. doi: 10.1016/0304-4157(90)90006-x.


The molecular mechanisms underlying the various effects of melittin on membranes have not been completely defined and much of the evidence described indicates that different molecular mechanisms may underlie different actions of the peptide. Ideas about the formation of transbilayer aggregates of melittin under the influence of a transbilayer potential, and for bilayer structural perturbation arising from the location of the peptide helix within the head group region of the membrane have been made based on the crystal structure of the peptide, the kinetics and concentration dependence of melittins membrane actions, together with simple ideas about the conformational properties of amphipathic helical peptides and their interactions with membranes. Physical studies of the interaction of melittin with model membranes have been useful in determining the potential of the peptide to adopt different locations, orientations and association states within membranes under different conditions, but the relationship of the results obtained to the actions of melittin in cell membranes or under the influence of a membrane potential are unclear. Experimental definition of the interaction of melittin with more complex membranes, including the erythrocyte membrane or in bilayers under the influence of a transmembrane potential, will require direct study in these membranes. Experiments employing labeled melittins for ESR, NMR or fluorescence experiments are promising both for their sensitivity (ESR and fluorescence) and the ability to focus on the peptide within the background of endogenous proteins within cell membranes. The study of melittin in model membranes has been useful for the development of methodology for determination of membrane protein structures. Despite the structural complexity of integral membrane proteins, it is interesting that in some respects their study be more straightforward, lacking as they do the elusive properties of melittin (and other structurally labile membrane peptides) which limit the possibility of defining their interaction with membranes in terms of a single conformation, location, orientation and association state within the membrane.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Bee Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Hemolysis
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Melitten / metabolism
  • Melitten / pharmacology*
  • Membrane Fusion
  • Membranes / drug effects*
  • Micelles
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phospholipases A
  • Protein Conformation


  • Bee Venoms
  • Micelles
  • Melitten
  • Phospholipases A