Effect of Intracellular Expression of Antimicrobial Peptide LL-37 on Growth of Escherichia coli Strain TOP10 under Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditions

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Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) can cause lysis of target bacteria by directly inserting themselves into the lipid bilayer. This killing mechanism confounds the identification of the intracellular targets of AMPs. To circumvent this, we used a shuttle vector containing the inducible expression of a human cathelicidin-related AMP, LL-37, to examine its effect on Escherichia coli TOP10 under aerobic and anaerobic growth conditions. Induction of LL-37 caused growth inhibition and alteration in cell morphology to a filamentous phenotype. Further examination of the E. coli cell division protein FtsZ revealed that LL-37 did not interact with FtsZ. Moreover, intracellular expression of LL-37 results in the enhanced production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), causing lethal membrane depolarization under aerobic conditions. Additionally, the membrane permeability was increased after intracellular expression of LL37 under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Transcriptomic analysis revealed that intracellular LL-37 mainly affected the expression of genes related to energy production and carbohydrate metabolism. More specifically, genes related to oxidative phosphorylation under both aerobic and anaerobic growth conditions were affected. Collectively, our current study demonstrates that intracellular expression of LL-37 in E. coli can inhibit growth under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. While we confirmed that the generation of ROS is a bactericidal mechanism for LL-37 under aerobic growth conditions, we also found that the intracellular accumulation of cationic LL-37 influences the redox and ion status of the cells under both growth conditions. These data suggest that there is a new AMP-mediated bacterial killing mechanism that targets energy metabolism.


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