Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Renata Pasqualini, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wadih Arap, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffery Tarrand, M.D.

Committee Member

Pablo Okhuysen, M.D.

Committee Member

Magnus Hook, M.D.

Committee Member

Aarif Khakoo, M.D.


It is widely accepted that the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens is the result of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Infectious Disease Society of America, Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization continue to view, with concern, the lack of antibiotics in development, especially those against Gram-negative bacteria.

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) have been proposed as an alternative to antibiotics due to their selective activity against microbes and minor ability to induce resistance. For example, the Food and Drug Administration approved Daptomycin (DAP) in 2003 for treatment of severe skin infections caused by susceptible Gram-positive organisms. Currently, there are 12 to 15 examples of modified natural and synthetic AMPs in clinical development. But most of these agents are against Gram-positive bacteria. Therefore, there is unmet medical need for antimicrobials used to treat infections caused by Gram-negative bacteria.

In this study, we show that a pro-apoptotic peptide predominantly used in cancer therapy, (KLAKLAK)2, is an effective antimicrobial against Gram-negative laboratory strains and clinical isolates. Despite the therapeutic promise, AMPs development is hindered by their susceptibility to proteolysis. Here, we demonstrate that an all-D enantiomer of (KLAKLAK)2, resistant to proteolysis, retains its activity against Gram-negative pathogens. In addition, we have elucidated the specific site and mechanism of action of D(KLAKLAK)2 through a repertoire of whole-cell and membrane-model assays.

Although it is considered that development of resistance does not represent an obstacle for AMPs clinical development, strains with decreased susceptibility to these compounds have been reported. Staphylococci resistance to DAP was observed soon after its approval for use and has been linked to alterations of the cell wall (CW) and cellular membrane (CM) properties. Immediately following staphylococcal resistance, Enterococci resistance to DAP was seen, yet the mechanism of resistance in enterococci remains unknown. Our findings demonstrate that, similar to S. aureus, development of DAP-resistance in a vancomycin-resistant E. faecalis isolate is associated with alterations of the CW and properties of the CM. However, the genes linked to these changes in enterococci appear to be different from those described in S. aureus.


Antibiotic resistance, antimicrobial peptides, Gram-negative, Daptomycin

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