School of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, College of Natural Sciences, Kyungpook National University, Daegu 702-701, Korea.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) exert antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, fungi, and viruses by various mechanisms. AMPs commonly possess particular characteristics by harboring cationic and amphipathic structures and binding to cell membranes, resulting in the leakage of essential cell contents by forming pores or disturbing lipid organization. These membrane disruptive mechanisms of AMPs are possible to explain according to the various structure forming pores in the membrane. Some AMPs inhibit DNA and/or RNA synthesis as well as apoptosis induction by reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulation and mitochondrial dysfunction. Specifically, mitochondria play a major role in the apoptotic pathway. During apoptosis induced by AMPs, cells undergo cytochrome c release, caspase activation, phosphatidylserine externalization, plasma or mitochondrial membrane depolarization, DNA and nuclei damage, cell shrinkage, apoptotic body formation, and membrane blebbing. Even AMPs, which have been reported to exert membrane-active mechanisms, induce apoptosis in yeast. These phenomena were also discovered in tumor cells treated with AMPs. The apoptosis mechanism of AMPs is available for various therapeutics such as antibiotics for antibiotic-resistant pathogens that resist to the membrane active mechanism, and antitumor agents with selectivity to tumor cells.