Endogenous peptide antibiotics (termed also host-defense or antimicrobial peptides) are known as evolutionarily old components of innate immunity. They were found initially in invertebrates, but later on also in vertebrates, including humans. This secondary, chemical immune system provides organisms with a repertoire of small peptides that act against invasion (for both offensive and defensive purposes) by occasional and obligate pathogens. Each antimicrobial peptide has a broad but not identical spectrum of antimicrobial activity, predominantly against bacteria, providing the host maximum coverage against a rather broad spectrum of microbial organisms. Many of these peptides interact with the target cell membranes and increase their permeability, which results in cell lysis. A second important family includes lipopeptides. They are produced in bacteria and fungi during cultivation on various carbon sources, and possess a strong antifungal activity. Unfortunately, native lipopeptides are non-cell selective and therefore extremely toxic to mammalian cells. Whereas extensive studies have emerged on the requirements for a peptide to be antibacterial, very little is known concerning the parameters that contribute to antifungal activity. This review summarizes recent studies aimed to understand how antimicrobial peptides and lipopeptides select their target cell. This includes a new group of lipopeptides highly potent against pathogenic fungi and yeast. They are composed of inert cationic peptides conjugated to aliphatic acids with different lengths. Deep understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the differential cells specificity of these families of host defense molecule is required to meet the challenges imposed by the life-threatening infections.
Keywords: Host defense peptides, lipopeptides, cytolytic peptides, antimicrobial peptides, anticancer peptides, amphipatic peptides, model membranes, membrane permeabilization
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