Dynamic transitions of membrane-active peptides.
ABSTRACT Membrane-active peptides or protein segments play an important role in many biological processes at the cellular interface to the environment. They are involved, e.g., in cellular fusion or host defense, where they can cause not only merging but also the destabilization of cell membranes. Many factors determine how these typically amphipathic peptides interact with the lipid bilayer. For example, the peptide orientation in the membrane determines which parts of the peptide are exposed to the hydrophobic bilayer interior or to the polar lipid/water interface. As another example, oligomerization is required for many activities such as pore formation. Peptides have been often classified according to a single characteristic mode of interaction with the bilayer, but over the years a more versatile picture has emerged. It appears that any single peptide can adopt several different alignments and/or oligomeric states in response to changes in the environment. For instance, many antimicrobial peptides adopt a surface-parallel alignment at low concentration, but they tilt obliquely into or even fully insert transmembrane into the bilayer above a critical peptide-to-lipid ratio, often in the form of oligomeric pores. Similar changes in peptide orientation or oligomeric state have been observed as a function of, e.g., temperature, lipid composition, pH, or induced by a synergistic partner peptide. Such transitions between peptide states can be regarded as the result of a re-adjustment in the balance between peptide-peptide and peptide-lipid interactions, as the environment conditions are changed. Though often studied in model membrane systems, such rich variety of peptide states is even more likely to occur in native biomembranes with their diverse compositions and physicochemical properties. The ability to undergo transitions between different states thus plays a fundamental role for the biological activities of membrane-active peptides.