A How-To Guide for Mode of Action Analysis of Antimicrobial Peptides
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are a promising alternative to classical antibiotics in the fight against multi-resistant bacteria. They are produced by organisms from all domains of life and constitute a nearly universal defense mechanism against infectious agents. No drug can be approved without information about its mechanism of action. In order to use them in a clinical setting, it is pivotal to understand how AMPs work. While many pore-forming AMPs are well-characterized in model membrane systems, non-pore-forming peptides are often poorly understood. Moreover, there is evidence that pore formation may not happen or not play a role in vivo. It is therefore imperative to study how AMPs interact with their targets in vivo and consequently kill microorganisms. This has been difficult in the past, since established methods did not provide much mechanistic detail. Especially, methods to study membrane-active compounds have been scarce. Recent advances, in particular in microscopy technology and cell biological labeling techniques, now allow studying mechanisms of AMPs in unprecedented detail. This review gives an overview of available in vivo methods to investigate the antibacterial mechanisms of AMPs. In addition to classical mode of action classification assays, we discuss global profiling techniques, such as genomic and proteomic approaches, as well as bacterial cytological profiling and other cell biological assays. We cover approaches to determine the effects of AMPs on cell morphology, outer membrane, cell wall, and inner membrane properties, cellular macromolecules, and protein targets. We particularly expand on methods to examine cytoplasmic membrane parameters, such as composition, thickness, organization, fluidity, potential, and the functionality of membrane-associated processes. This review aims to provide a guide for researchers, who seek a broad overview of the available methodology to study the mechanisms of AMPs in living bacteria.
mode of action