Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are small but effective cationic peptides with variable length. In previous study, four hexapeptides were identified that showed antimicrobial activities against various phytopathogenic bacteria. KCM21, the most effective antimicrobial peptide, was selected for further analysis to understand its modes of action by monitoring inhibitory effects of various cations, time-dependent antimicrobial kinetics, and observing cell disruption by electron microscopy. The effects of KCM21 on Gram-negative strain, Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato DC3000 and Gram-positive strain, Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis were compared. Treatment with divalent cations such as Ca(2+) and Mg(2+) inhibited the bactericidal activities of KCM21 significantly against P. syringae pv. tomato DC3000. The bactericidal kinetic study showed that KCM21 killed both bacteria rapidly and the process was faster against C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis. The electron microscopic analysis revealed that KCM21 induced the formation of micelles and blebs on the surface of P. syringae pv. tomato DC3000 cells, while it caused cell rupture against C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis cells. The outer membrane alteration and higher sensitivity to Ca(2+) suggest that KCM21 interact with the outer membrane of P. syringae pv. tomato DC3000 cells during the process of killing, but not with C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis cells that lack outer membrane. Considering that both strains had similar sensitivity to KCM21 in LB medium, outer membrane could not be the main target of KCM21, instead common compartments such as cytoplasmic membrane or internal macromolecules might be a possible target(s) of KCM21.
Keywords: antimicrobial synthetic peptides; bactericidal kinetics; electron microscopy; plant disease control.