Peptides found in the protein cytokeratin 6A in humans protect from microbial infection by inhibiting bacterial mobility.


Keratin is a that is renowned for its help in managing the structural integrity of a cell; what was not previously known about keratin, however, is that it is also a plentiful source of s that have antimicrobial properties.

Researchers began investigating keratin’s properties after pondering the resilience of the human eye. How is it that this exposed surface is rarely the site of infection? What defense mechanisms has the cornea developed to protect itself against the ever-hungry microbial world?

The Strategy

cells line various surfaces of the body, including the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and the eyes, forming a barrier against microbial invaders. Cytokeratins are proteins found in epithelial cells, providing strength and stability to the cell’s internal network of support structures called the cytoskeleton.

Cytokeratins battle microbes by producing peptides that make the microbial cell walls or membranes permeable, exposing their insides to the surrounding environment. This disruption of cellular can ultimately lead to cell death. The particular peptides studied so far seem to also bind bacterial cells, disrupting their ability to move around. It is not yet known exactly how the cytokeratins do this. It may be related to electrical charge, hydropobicity (repelling water), or some other mechanism.

These antimicrobial properties are particularly beneficial for epithelial cells, which are constantly exposed to a variety of microbial pathogens.

The Potential

Inspired by cytokeratins and the peptides they produce, researchers could develop biomimetic antimicrobial coatings for medical devices, implants, and surfaces to prevent microbial colonization and infection. By mimicking the mechanisms employed by cytokeratins, such materials could enhance the innate defense mechanisms of epithelial tissues and promote better overall health outcomes. Additionally, insights from this research could inform the development of novel antimicrobial therapies targeting microbial membranes or proteins, offering new strategies for combating infectious diseases.

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Last Updated February 16, 2024