LL-37 is a cationic, amphipathic α-helical antimicrobial peptide found in humans that kills cells by disrupting the cell membrane. To disrupt membranes, antimicrobial peptides such as LL-37 must alter the hydrophobic core of the bilayer. Differential scanning calorimetry and deuterium (2H) NMR experiments on acyl chain perdeuterated lipids demonstrate that LL-37 inserts into the hydrophobic region of the bilayer and alters the chain packing and cooperativity. The results show that hydrophobic interactions between LL-37 and the hydrophobic acyl chains are as important for the ability of this peptide to disrupt lipid bilayers as its electrostatic interactions with the polar headgroups. The 2H NMR data are consistent with the previously determined surface orientation of LL-37 (Henzler Wildman, K. A., et al. (2003) Biochemistry 42, 6545) with an estimated 5-6 Å depth of penetration of the hydrophobic face of the amphipathic helix into the hydrophobic interior of the bilayer. LL-37 also alters the material properties of lipid bilayers, including the area per lipid, hydrophobic thickness, and coefficient of thermal expansion in a manner that varies with lipid type and temperature. Comparison of the effect of LL-37 on 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-phosphatidylcholine (POPC-d 31) and 1,2-dimyristoyl-phosphatidylcholine (DMPC-d54) at different temperatures demonstrates the importance of bilayer order in determining the type and extent of disordering and disruption of the hydrophobic core by LL-37. One possible explanation, which accounts for both the 2H NMR data presented here and the known surface orientation of LL-37 under identical conditions, is that bilayer order influences the depth of insertion of LL-37 into the hydrophobic/hydrophilic interface of the bilayer, altering the balance of electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions between the peptide and the lipids.
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