Researchers at the University of Illinois have deciphered the molecular mechanism behind selective antimicrobial activity for a prototypical class of synthetic compounds.
The compounds, which mimic antimicrobial peptides found in biological immune systems, "function as molecular 'hole punchers,' punching holes in the membranes of bacteria," said Gerard Wong, a professor of materials science and engineering, physics, and bioengineering. "It’s a little like shooting them with a hail of nanometer-sized bullets -- the perforated membranes leak and the bacteria consequently die."
The researchers said they have also determined why some compounds punch holes only in bacteria, while others kill everything within reach, including human cells.
"We can use this as a kind of Rosetta stone to decipher the mechanisms of much more complicated antimicrobial molecules," said Wong. "If we can understand the design rules of how these molecules work, then we can … no longer worry about antimicrobial resistance."
The study is reported in a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and posted on its Web site.