The lipid A and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) binding and neutralizing activities of a synthetic, polycationic, amphiphilic peptide were studied. The branched peptide, designed as a functional analog of polymyxin B, has a six residue hydrophobic sequence, bearing at its N-terminus a penultimate lysine residue whose α- and ε-amino groups are coupled to two terminal lysine residues. In fluorescence spectroscopic studies designed to examine relative affinities of binding to the toxin, neutralization of surface charge and fluidization of the acyl domains, the peptide was active, closely resembling the effects of polymyxin B and its nonapeptide derivative; however, the synthetic peptide does not induce phase transitions in LPS aggregates as do polymyxin B and polymyxin B nonapeptide. The peptide was also comparable with polymyxin B in its ability to inhibit LPS-mediated IL-1 and IL-6 release from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. The synthetic compound is devoid of antibacterial activities and did not induce conductance fluxes in LPS-containing asymmetric planar membranes. These results strengthen the premise that basicity and amphiphilicity are necessary and sufficient physical properties that ascribe endotoxin binding and neutralizing activities, and further suggest that antibacterial/membrane perturbant and LPS neutralizing activities are dissociable, which may be of value in designing LPS-sequestering agents of low toxicity.
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We thank Okechukwu Nwoko for excellent technical assistance, Dr. Jean Richa of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School Transgenic Facility for ES cell injections, and Christopher Watt for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the NIH (AR44878) and Muscular Dystrophy Association, and was done during the tenure of an Established Investigatorship from the American Heart Association.