Antimicrobial peptides and alytesin are co-secreted from the venom of the Midwife toad, Alytes maurus (Alytidae, Anura): Implications for the evolution of frog skin defensive secretions

Enrico König , Mei Zhou, Lei Wang, Tianbao Chen, Olaf R.P. Bininda-Emonds , Christopher Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The skin secretions of frogs and toads (Anura) have long been a known source of a vast abundance of bioactive substances. In the past decade, transcriptome data of the granular glands of anuran skin has given new impetus to investigations of the putative constituent peptides. Alytes obstetricans was recently investigated and novel peptides with antimicrobial activity were isolated and functionally characterised. However, genetic data for the evolutionarily ancient lineage to which Alytes belongs (midwife toads; Alytidae) remains unavailable.

Here we present the first such genetic data for Alytidae, derived via the granular gland transcriptome of a closely-related species of midwife toad, Alytes maurus. First, we present nucleotide sequences of the entire peptide precursors for four novel antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). The two precursors resemble those from Bombinatoridae in both their structural architecture and amino acid sequence. Each precursor comprises two AMPs as tandem repeats, with a member of the alyteserin-1 family (alyteserin-1Ma: GFKEVLKADLGSLVKGIAAHVAN-NH2 or alyteserin-1Mb: GFKEVLKAGLGSLVKGIPAHVAN-NH2) followed by its corresponding member from the alyteserin-2 family (alyteserin-2Ma: FIGKLISAASGLLSHL-NH2 or alyteserin-2Mb: ILGAIIPLVSGLLSHL-NH2). Synthetic replicates of the four AMPs possessed minimal inhibitory concentrations (MICs) ranging from 9.5 to 300 µM, with the most potent being alyteserin-2Ma. Second, we also cloned the cDNA encoding an alytesin precursor, with the active alytesin exhibiting high sequence identity to bombesin-related peptides from other frogs. All putative mature peptide sequences were confirmed to be present in the skin secretion via LC/MS.

The close structural resemblance of the alyteserin genes that we isolated for A. maurus with those of Bombina provide independent molecular evidence for a close evolutionary relationship between these genera as well as more support for the convergent evolution of the AMP system within anurans. In contrast to the more evolutionarily conserved nature of neuropeptides (including alytesin, which we also isolated), the more variable nature of the AMP system together with the sporadic distribution of AMPs among anuran amphibians fuels in part our hypothesis that the latter system was co-opted secondarily to fulfil a function in the innate immune system, having originally evolved for defence against potential macropredators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-981
Number of pages15
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • Alyteserin; Host-defence peptides; Cytolytic peptides; Innate immune system; Bombesin-related peptides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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