Antimicrobial Peptides and Small Molecules Targeting the Cell Membrane of Staphylococcus aureus

Narchonai Ganesan, Biswajit Mishra, Lewis Oscar Felix, Eleftherios Mylonakis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Clinical management of Staphylococcus aureus infections presents a challenge due to the high incidence, considerable virulence, and emergence of drug resistance mechanisms. The treatment of drug-resistant strains, such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), is further complicated by the development of tolerance and persistence to antimicrobial agents in clinical use. To address these challenges, membrane disruptors, that are not generally considered during drug discovery for agents against S. aureus, should be explored. The cell membrane protects S. aureus from external stresses and antimicrobial agents, but membrane-targeting antimicrobial agents are probably less likely to promote bacterial resistance. Nontypical linear cationic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), highly modified AMPs such as daptomycin (lipopeptide), bacitracin (cyclic peptide), and gramicidin S (cyclic peptide), are currently in clinical use. Recent studies have demonstrated that AMPs and small molecules can penetrate the cell membrane of S. aureus, inhibit phospholipid biosynthesis, or block the passage of solutes between the periplasm and the exterior of the cell. In addition to their primary mechanism of action (MOA) that targets the bacterial membrane, AMPs and small molecules may also impact bacteria through secondary mechanisms such as targeting the biofilm, and downregulating virulence genes of S. aureus. In this review, we discuss the current state of research into cell membrane-targeting AMPs and small molecules and their potential mechanisms of action against drug-resistant physiological forms of S. aureus, including persister cells and biofilms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0003722
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 28 2023


  • antimicrobial peptides
  • biofilm
  • persister
  • small molecules
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Cell Membrane
  • Humans
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus/genetics
  • Peptides, Cyclic/therapeutic use
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/pharmacology
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Staphylococcal Infections/drug therapy
  • Biofilms
  • Antimicrobial Peptides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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