Mammalian myeloid and epithelial cells express various peptide antibiotics (such as defensins and cathelicidins) that contribute to the innate host defense against invading microorganisms. Among these peptides, human cathelicidin CAP18/LL-37 (L1 to S37) possesses not only potent antibacterial activity against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria but also the ability to bind to gram-negative lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and neutralize its biological activities. In this study, to develop peptide derivatives with improved LPS-neutralizing activities, we utilized an 18-mer peptide (K15 to V32) of LL-37 as a template and evaluated the activities of modified peptides by using the CD14+ murine macrophage cell line RAW 264.7 and the murine endotoxin shock model. By replacement of E16 and K25 with two L residues, the hydrophobicity of the peptide (18-mer LL) was increased, and by further replacement of Q22, D26, and N30 with three K residues, the cationicity of the peptide (18-mer LLKKK) was enhanced. Among peptide derivatives, 18-mer LLKKK displayed the most powerful LPS-neutralizing activity: it was most potent at binding to LPS, inhibiting the interaction between LPS and LPS-binding protein, and attaching to the CD14 molecule, thereby suppressing the binding of LPS to CD14+ cells and attenuating production of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) by these cells. Furthermore, in the murine endotoxin shock model, 18-mer LLKKK most effectively suppressed LPS-induced TNF-α production and protected mice from lethal endotoxin shock. Together, these observations indicate that the LPS-neutralizing activities of the amphipathic human CAP18/LL-37-derived 18-mer peptide can be augmented by modifying its hydrophobicity and cationicity, and that 18-mer LLKKK is the most potent of the peptide derivatives, with therapeutic potential for gram-negative bacterial endotoxin shock
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