Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are a large class of innate immunity effectors with a remarkable capacity to inactivate microorganisms. Their ability to kill bacteria by membranolytic effects has been well established. However, a lot of evidence points to alternative, non-lytic modes of action for a number of AMPs, which operate through interactions with specific molecular targets. It has been reported that non-membrane-permeabilizing AMPs can bind to and inhibit DNA, RNA or protein synthesis processes, inactivate essential intracellular enzymes, or affect membrane septum formation and cell wall synthesis. This minireview summarizes recent findings on these alternative, non-lytic modes of antimicrobial action with an emphasis to the experimental approaches used to clarify each step of their intracellular action, i.e. the cell penetration mechanism, intracellular localization and molecular mechanisms of antibacterial action. Despite the fact that such data exists for a large number of peptides, our analysis indicates that only for a small number of AMPs sufficient data have been collected to support a mode of action with an authentic and substantial contribution by intracellular targeting. In most cases, peptides with non-lytic features have not been thoroughly analyzed, or only a single aspect of their mode of action has been taken into consideration and therefore their mechanism of action can only be hypothesized. A more detailed knowledge of this class of AMPs would be important in the design of novel antibacterial agents against unexploited targets, endowed with the capacity to penetrate into pathogen cells and kill them from within
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