A new peptide antibiotic, EM 49, is shown to disrupt the structure of Escherichia coli outer membranes and release outer membrane fragments into the surrounding media. Evidence supporting this conclusion includes EM 49 stimulated release of outer membrane phospholipids, lipopolysaccharide, and membrane fragments having a phospholipid and polypeptide composition similar to outer membranes. The density of the membrane fragments released by EM 49 was 1.22 g/cm3, which was identical to isolated outer membranes. Approximately 10 to 15% of the E. coli lipopolysaccharide was released upon treatment with EM 49. Both scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed that the antibiotic caused the formation of numerous protrusions or blebs on the surface of E. coli, with apparent release of membrane vesicles from the cells. Direct interaction between EM 49 and outer membranes was demonstrated using outer membranes labeled with the fluorescent dye diphenylhexatriene. Treatment of the fluorescent-labeled outer membranes with EM 49 increased fluorescence intensity and decreased polarization, indicating that the peptide perturbed outer-membrane structure. In addition, strong interactions between EM 49 and purified E. coli phospholipids were detected using the Hummel and Dreyer technique. Association constants between the peptide and phospholipids were approximately 105 M-1. A model for the disruptive effect of EM 49 on outer-membrane structure is proposed in which the fatty acid chain of the antibiotic is inserted into the hydrophobic core of the membrane. This orientation would allow the polycationic, peptide portion of the antibiotic to disrupt the normal electrostatic interactions between divalent cations and components of the outer membrane. Evidence supporting this conclusion includes specific protection of E. coli from EM 49 by Mg2+ and Ca2+ and inhibition of EM 49 stimulated phospholipid release by these cations. Disruption of the outer membrane would allow the antibiotic to penetrate to the inner membrane, which is probably the primary killing site of EM 49.
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