Antibacterial compound from HIV may fight drug-resistant bacteria

A team of University of Pittsburgh researchers recently developed antibacterial compounds, derived from HIV's outer coating, that could be used against drug-resistant bacteria, according to a study published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Ronald Montelaro, the study's senior author, and his team developed the new agent after conducing basic research on HIV envelope protein structure and function. The new agents are small, making them easy and inexpensive to manufacture, and could be able to prevent bacterial resistance.

"We identified highly conserved unique protein sequences that were predicted by computer modeling to assume structures characteristic of natural antibacterial peptides," Montelaro said. "Since antibacterial peptides specifically target and disrupt the integrity and function of bacterial membranes, we thought that these similar peptide sequences in the HIV envelope protein might contribute to toxicity and death in infected cells by altering cell membranes."

Montelaro and his team engineered the original HIV peptides to make them smaller and more effective. The most recent paper describes the third generation of peptides.

There are many potential applications for the compounds, including countering chronic bacterial infections in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, antibacterial activity against topical, systemic and respiratory infections and as a rapid post-exposure aerosol treatment in biodefense.