Rigidification of the Escherichia coli cytoplasm by the human antimicrobial peptide LL-37 revealed by superresolution fluorescence microscopy.


Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706 [Email]


Superresolution, single-particle tracking reveals effects of the cationic antimicrobial peptide LL-37 on the Escherichia coli cytoplasm. Seconds after LL-37 penetrates the cytoplasmic membrane, the chromosomal DNA becomes rigidified on a length scale of ∼30 nm, evidenced by the loss of jiggling motion of specific DNA markers. The diffusive motion of a subset of ribosomes is also frozen. The mean diffusion coefficients of the DNA-binding protein HU and the nonendogenous protein Kaede decrease twofold. Roughly 108 LL-37 copies flood the cell (mean concentration ∼90 mM). Much of the LL-37 remains bound within the cell after extensive rinsing with fresh growth medium. Growth never recovers. The results suggest that the high concentration of adsorbed polycationic peptides forms a dense network of noncovalent, electrostatic linkages within the chromosomal DNA and among 70S-polysomes. The bacterial cytoplasm comprises a concentrated collection of biopolymers that are predominantly polyanionic (e.g., DNA, ribosomes, RNA, and most globular proteins). In normal cells, this provides a kind of electrostatic lubrication, enabling facile diffusion despite high biopolymer volume fraction. However, this same polyanionic nature renders the cytoplasm susceptible to massive adsorption of polycationic agents once penetration of the membranes occurs. If this phenomenon proves widespread across cationic agents and bacterial species, it will help explain why resistance to antimicrobial peptides develops only slowly. The results suggest two design criteria for polycationic peptides that efficiently kill gram-negative bacteria: facile penetration of the outer membrane and the ability to alter the cytoplasm by electrostatically linking double-stranded DNA and 70S-polysomes.


E. coli,LL-37,antimicrobial peptide,nucleoid rigidification,