Peptide-membrane binding is not enough to explain bioactivity: A case study

Victoria N. Syryamina, Ekaterina F. Afanasyeva, Sergei A. Dzuba, Fernando Formaggio, Marta De Zotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Membrane-active peptides are a promising class of antimicrobial and anticancer therapeutics. For this reason, their molecular mechanisms of action are currently actively investigated. By exploiting Electron Paramagnetic Resonance, we study the membrane interaction of two spin-labeled analogs of the antimicrobial and cytotoxic peptide trichogin GA IV (Tri), with opposite bioactivity: Tri(Api8), able to selectively kill cancer cells, and Tri(Leu4), which is completely nontoxic. In our attempt to determine the molecular basis of their different biological activity, we investigate peptide impact on the lateral organization of lipid membranes, peptide localization and oligomerization, in the zwitter-ionic 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (POPC) model membrane We show that, despite their divergent bioactivity, both peptide analogs (i) are membrane-bound, (ii) display a weak tendency to oligomerization, and (iii) do not induce significant lipid rearrangement. Conversely, literature data show that the parent peptide trichogin, which is cytotoxic without any selectivity, is strongly prone to dimerization and affects the reorganization of POPC membranes. Its dimers are involved in the rotation around the peptide helix, as observed at cryogenic temperatures in the millisecond timescale. Since this latter behavior is not observed for the inactive Tri(Leu4), we propose that for short-length peptides as trichogin oligomerization and molecular motions are crucial for bioactivity, and membrane binding alone is not enough to predict or explain it. We envisage that small changes in the peptide sequence that affect only their ability to oligomerize, or their molecular motions inside the membrane, can tune the peptide activity on membranes of different compositions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number183978
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2022


  • Bioactivity
  • Lateral lipid organization
  • Membrane-active peptides
  • Trichogin
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Lipid Bilayers/chemistry
  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Membranes/metabolism
  • Spin Labels
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/pharmacology




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