COVID-19 represents an unprecedented health, social and economic challenge in Australia and around the world. Support Burnet’s COVID-19 emergency response today.
Cyclotides, a large family of cyclic peptides from plants, have a broad range of biological activities, including insecticidal, cytotoxic, and anti-HIV activities. In all of these activities, cell membranes seem likely to be the primary target for cyclotides. However, the mechanistic role of lipid membranes in the activity of cyclotides remains unclear. To determine the role of lipid organization in the activity of the prototypic cyclotide, kalata B1 (kB1), and synthetic analogs, their bioactivities and affinities for model membranes were evaluated. We found that the bioactivity of kB1 is dependent on the lipid composition of target cell membranes. In particular, the activity of kB1 requires specific interactions with phospholipids containing phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) headgroups but is further modulated by nonspecific peptide-lipid hydrophobic interactions, which are favored in raft-like membranes. Negatively charged phospholipids do not favor high kB1 affinity. This lipid selectivity explains trends in antimicrobial and hemolytic activities of kB1; it does not target bacterial cell walls, which are negatively charged and lacking PE-phospholipids but can insert in the membranes of red blood cells, which have a low PE content and raft domains in their outer layer. We further show that the anti-HIV activity of kB1 is the result of its ability to target and disrupt the membranes of HIV particles, which are raft-like membranes very rich in PE-phospholipids.