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Front. Microbiol. | doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.00320

Mesobuthus Venom-Derived Antimicrobial Peptides Possess Intrinsic Multifunctionality and Differential Potential as Drugs

  • 1Institute of Zoology (CAS), China

Animal venoms are a mixture of peptides and proteins that serve two basic biological functions: predation and defense against both predators and microbes. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are a common component extensively present in various scorpion venoms (herein abbreviated as svAMPs). However, their roles in predation and defense against predators and potential as drugs are poorly understood. Here, we report five new venom peptides with antimicrobial activity from two Mesobuthus scorpion species. These α-helical linear peptides displayed highly bactericidal activity towards all the Gram-positive bacteria used here but differential activity against Gram-negative bacteria and fungi. In addition to the antibiotic activity, these AMPs displayed lethality to houseflies and hemotoxin-like toxicity on mice by causing hemolysis, tissue damage and inducing inflammatory pain. Unlike AMPs from other origins, these venom-derived AMPs seem to be unsuitable as anti-infective drugs due to their high hemolysis and low serum stability. However, MeuTXKβ1, a known two-domain Mesobuthus AMP, is an exception since it exhibits high activity towards antibiotic resistant Staphylococci clinical isolates with low hemolysis and high serum stability. The findings that the classical AMPs play predatory and defensive roles indicate that the multifunctionality of scorpion venom components is an intrinsic feature likely evolved by natural selection from microbes, prey and predators of scorpions. This definitely provides an excellent system in which one can study how a protein adaptively evolves novel functions in a new environment. Meantimes, new strategies are needed to remove the toxicity of svAMPs on eukaryotic cells when they are used as leads for anti-infective drugs.

Keywords: Peptide antibiotics, venom gland immunity, Staphylococci, predation, Defense

Received: 31 Jul 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Tzi Bun Ng, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Reviewed by:

Osmar N. Silva, Universidade Católica Dom Bosco, Brazil
Vishvanath Tiwari, Central University of Rajasthan, India
Ivan Poon, La Trobe University, Australia  

Copyright: © 2018 Gao and Zhu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Shunyi Zhu, Institute of Zoology (CAS), 1 Beichen West Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100101, China, zhusy@ioz.ac.cn