Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs): Ancient compounds that represent novel weapons in the fight against bacteria

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Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are short peptidic molecules produced by most living creatures. They help unicellular organisms to successfully compete for nutrients with other organisms sharing their biological niche, while AMPs form part of the immune system of multicellular creatures. Thus, these molecules represent biological weapons that have evolved over millions of years as a result of an escalating arms race for survival among living organisms. All AMPs share common features, such as a small size, with cationic and hydrophobic sequences within a linear or cyclic structure. AMPs can inhibit or kill bacteria at micromolar concentrations, often by non-specific mechanisms; hence the appearance of resistance to these antimicrobials is rare. Moreover, AMPs can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including insidious microbes such as Acinetobacter baumannii and the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This review gives a detailed insight into a selection of the most prominent and interesting AMPs with antibacterial activity. In the near future AMPs, due to their properties and despite their ancient origin, should represent a novel alternative to antibiotics in the struggle to control pathogenic microorganisms and maintain the current human life expectancy.

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