Engineering “antimicrobial peptides” and other peptides to modulate protein-protein interactions in cancer

Samuel J.S. Rubin, Nir Qvit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are a class of peptides found across a wide array of organisms that play key roles in host defense. AMPs induce selective death in target cells and orchestrate specific or nonspecific immune responses. Many AMPs exhibit native anticancer activity in addition to antibacterial activity, and others have been engineered as antineoplastic agents. We discuss the use of AMPs in the detection and treatment of cancer as well as mechanisms of AMP-induced cell death. We present key examples of cathelicidins and transferrins, which are major AMP families. Further, we discuss the critical roles of protein-protein interactions (PPIs) in cancer and how AMPs are well-suited to target PPIs based on their unique drug-like properties not exhibited by small molecules or antibodies. While peptides, including AMPs, can have limited stability and bioavailability, these issues can be overcome by peptide backbone modification or cyclization (e.g., stapling) and by the use of delivery systems such as cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs), respectively. We discuss approaches for optimizing drug properties of peptide and peptidomimetic leads (modified peptides), providing examples of promising techniques that may be applied to AMPs. These molecules represent an exciting resource as anticancer agents with unique therapeutic advantages that can target challenging mechanisms involving PPIs. Indeed, AMPs are suitable drug leads for further development of cancer therapeutics, and many studies to this end are underway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2970-2983
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Topics in Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number32
StatePublished - 2020


  • Antimicrobial peptides
  • Cancer
  • Cyclization
  • Peptides
  • Peptidomimetics
  • Protein-protein interactions
  • Therapeutic

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Drug Discovery


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