The emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) pathogens underscores the need for new antimicrobial agents to overcome the resistance mechanisms of these organisms. Cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAPs) provide a potential source of new antimicrobial therapeutics. We previously characterized a lytic base unit (LBU) series of engineered CAPs (eCAPs) of 12 to 48 residues demonstrating maximum antibacterial selectivity at 24 residues. Further, Trp substitution in LBU sequences increased activity against both P. aeruginosa and S. aureus under challenging conditions (e.g., saline, divalent cations, and serum). Based on these findings, we hypothesized that the optimal length and, therefore, the cost for maximum eCAP activity under physiologically relevant conditions could be significantly reduced using only Arg and Trp arranged to form idealized amphipathic helices. Hence, we developed a novel peptide series, composed only of Arg and Trp, in a sequence predicted and verified by circular dichroism to fold into optimized amphipathic helices. The most effective antimicrobial activity was achieved at 12 residues in length (WR12) against a panel of both Gram-negative and Gram-positive clinical isolates, including extensively drug-resistant strains, in saline and broth culture and at various pH values. The results demonstrate that the rational design of CAPs can lead to a significant reduction in the length and the number of amino acids used in peptide design to achieve optimal potency and selectivity against specific pathogens.
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