A protease-activated antimicrobial peptide (PAMP) and its inactive precursor were purified from the culture supernatant of Propionibacterium jensenii LMG 3032 and characterized at the molecular level. PAMP is a 64-amino-acid cationic peptide of 6,383 Da with physicochemical features similar to those of bacteriocins from gram-positive bacteria. This peptide displayed bactericidal activity against several propionibacteria and lactobacilli. DNA sequencing indicated that the PAMP-encoding gene (pamA) is translated as a proprotein of 198 amino acids with an N-terminal signal peptide of 27 amino acids and that PAMP constitutes the C-terminal part of this precursor. The amino acid sequence of pro-PAMP showed no similarity to those of other known proteins. By using activity tests and mass spectrometry, we showed that PAMP was formed upon protease treatment of the precursor protein. The propionibacteria produced the PAMP precursor constitutively during growth up to a level of approximately 4 mg/liter, but the producing bacteria were unable to activate the precursor. The requirement for an external protease represents a novel strategy for generating antimicrobial peptides.
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