Role of glycosylation in the anticancer activity of antibacterial peptides against breast cancer cells

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Graphical abstractAntibacterial peptides (ABPs) with cancer-selective toxicity have received much more attention as alternative chemotherapeutic agents in recent years. However, the basis of their anticancer activity remains unclear. The modification of cell surface glycosylation is a characteristic of cancer cells. The present study investigated the effect of glycosylation, in particular sialic acid, on the anticancer activity of ABPs. We showed that aurein 1.2, buforin IIb and BMAP-28 m exhibited selective cytotoxicity toward MX-1 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells. The binding activity, cytotoxicity and apoptotic activity of ABPs were enhanced by the presence of O-, N-glycoproteins, gangliosides and sialic acid on the surface of breast cancer cells. Among N-, O-glycoproteins and ganglioside, O-glycoproteins almost had the strongest effect on the binding and cytotoxicity of the three peptides. Further, up-regulation of hST6Gal1 in CHO-K1 cells enhanced the susceptibility of cells to these peptides. Finally, the growth of MX-1 xenograft tumors in mice was significantly suppressed by buforin IIb treatment, which was associated with induction of apoptosis and inhibition of vascularization. These data demonstrate that the three peptides bind to breast cancer cells via an interaction with surface O-, N-glycoproteins and gangliosides. Sialic acids act as key glycan binding sites for cationic ABP binding to glycoproteins and gangliosides. Therefore, glycosylation in breast cancer cells plays an important role in the anticancer activity of ABPs, which may partly explain their cancer-selective toxicity. Anticancer ABPs with cancer-selective cytotoxicity will be promising candidates for anticancer therapy in the future.

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