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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Natural and synthetic cathelicidin peptides with anti-microbial and anti-biofilm activity against Staphylococcus aureus

Scott N Dean1, Barney M Bishop2 and Monique L van Hoek3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, George Mason University, Manassas, VA, 20110, USA

2 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, George Mason University, Manassas, VA, 20110, USA

3 Department of Molecular and Microbiology and National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, George Mason University, Manassas, VA, 20110, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:114  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-114

Published: 23 May 2011



Chronic, infected wounds typically contain multiple genera of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, many of which are strong biofilm formers. Bacterial biofilms are thought to be a direct impediment to wound healing. New therapies that focus on a biofilm approach may improve the recovery and healing rate for infected wounds. In this study, cathelicidins and related short, synthetic peptides were tested for their anti-microbial effectiveness as well as their ability to inhibit the ability of S. aureus to form biofilms.


The helical human cathelicidin LL-37 was tested against S. aureus, and was found to exhibit effective anti-microbial, anti-attachment as well as anti-biofilm activity at concentrations in the low μg/ml range. The effect of peptide chirality and associated protease-resistance was explored through the use of an all-D amino acid peptide, D-LL-37, and in turn compared to scrambled LL-37. Helical cathelicidins have been identified in other animals such as the Chinese cobra, Naja atra (NA-CATH). We previously identified an 11-residue imperfectly repeated pattern (ATRA motif) within the sequence of NA-CATH. A series of short peptides (ATRA-1, -2, -1A), as well as a synthetic peptide, NA-CATH:ATRA1-ATRA1, were designed to explore the significance of the conserved residues within the ATRA motif for anti-microbial activity. The CD spectrum of NA-CATH and NA-CATH:ATRA1-ATRA1 revealed the structural properties of these peptides and suggested that helicity may factor into their anti-microbial and anti-biofilm activities.


The NA-CATH:ATRA1-ATRA1 peptide inhibits the production of biofilm by S. aureus in the presence of salt, exhibiting anti-biofilm activity at lower peptide concentrations than NA-CATH, LL-37 and D-LL-37; and demonstrates low cytoxicity against host cells but does not affect bacterial attachment. The peptides utilized in this anti-biofilm approach may provide templates for a new group of anti-microbials and potential future topical therapeutics for treating chronic wound infections.