Isosteric substitution in cationic-amphiphilic polymers reveals an important role for hydrogen bonding in bacterial membrane interactions

D. S.S.M. Uppu, M. M. Konai, U. Baul, P. Singh, T. K. Siersma, S. Samaddar, S. Vemparala, L. W. Hamoen, C. Narayana, J. Haldar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Biomimetic antibacterial polymers, the functional mimics of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), targeting the bacterial cell membrane have been developed to combat the problem of antibiotic resistance. Amphiphilicity, a balance of cationic charge and hydrophobicity, in these polymers has been shown to be pivotal for their selective interactions with anionic lipid membranes of bacteria instead of zwitterionic mammalian (human erythrocyte) membranes. However, it is unclear if and to what extent hydrogen bonding in amphiphilic antibacterial polymers contributes to this membrane binding specificity. To address this, we employ isosteric substitution of ester with amide moieties that differ in their potency for hydrogen bonding in the side chains of N-alkyl maleimide based amphiphilic polymers. Our studies reveal that amide polymer (AC3P) is a potent antibacterial agent with high membrane-disrupting properties compared to its ester counterpart (EC3P). To understand these differences we performed bio-physical experiments and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations which showed strong interactions of AC3P including hydrogen bonding with lipid head groups of bacterial model lipid bilayers, that are absent in EC3P, make them selective for bacterial membranes. Mechanistic investigations of these polymers in bacteria revealed specific membrane disruptive activity leading to the delocalization of cell division related proteins. This unprecedented and unique concept provides an understanding of bacterial membrane interactions highlighting the role of hydrogen bonding. Thus, these findings will have significant implications in efficient design of potent membrane-active agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4613-4623
Number of pages11
JournalChemical Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


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