Melittin peptide kills Trypanosoma cruzi parasites by inducing different cell death pathways

Toxicon. 2013 Jul;69:227-39. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2013.03.011. Epub 2013 Apr 2.


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are components of the innate immune response that represent desirable alternatives to conventional pharmaceuticals, as they have a fast mode of action, a low likelihood of resistance development and can act in conjunction with existing drug regimens. AMPs exhibit strong inhibitory activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, fungi, viruses, metazoans and other parasites, such as the protozoan Leishmania. Melittin is a naturally occurring AMP, which comprises 40-50% of the dry weight of Apis mellifera venom. Our group has recently shown that crude A. mellifera venom is lethal to Trypanosoma cruzi, the Chagas disease etiologic agent, and generates a variety of cell death phenotypes among treated parasites. Here, we demonstrate that the melittin affected all of T. cruzi developmental forms, including the intracellular amastigotes. The ultrastructural changes induced by melittin suggested the occurrence of different programmed cell death pathways, as was observed in A. mellifera-treated parasites. Autophagic cell death appeared to be the main death mechanism in epimastigotes. In contrast, melittin-treated trypomastigotes appeared to be dying via an apoptotic mechanism. Our findings confirm the great potential of AMPs, including melittin, as a potential source of new drugs for the treatment of neglected diseases, such as Chagas disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bee Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Bees / metabolism
  • Cell Death / drug effects*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chagas Disease / drug therapy
  • Chagas Disease / parasitology
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Melitten / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Trypanocidal Agents / pharmacology
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / drug effects*
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / ultrastructure


  • Bee Venoms
  • Trypanocidal Agents
  • Melitten