The Brazilian wasp Polybia Paulista is one of the largest and most aggressive species of social wasps. Scientists recently found that its venom can kill cancer cells.
The venom contains a molecule called MP1.
MP1 kills cancer cells by creating holes on their lipid membrane. This causes molecules crucial for cancer cell survival to leak out and kill cancer cells in just a few seconds without harming normal cells.
More studies are still needed to explore the potential of MP1 as a cancer drug.
But what is MP1??
Polybia-MP1 (MP1) is a bioactive host-defense peptide with known anticancer properties. Its activity is attributed to excess serine (phosphatidylserine (PS)) on the outer leaflet of cancer cells. Recently, higher quantities of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) were also found at these cells’ surface. We investigate the interaction of MP1 with model membranes in the presence and absence of POPS (PS) and DOPE (PE) to understand the role of lipid composition in MP1’s anticancer characteristics. Indeed we find that PS lipids significantly enhance the bound concentration of peptide on the membrane by a factor of 7–8. However, through a combination of membrane permeability assays and imaging techniques we find that PE significantly increases the susceptibility of the membrane to disruption by these peptides and causes an order-of-magnitude increase in membrane permeability by facilitating the formation of larger transmembrane pores. Significantly, atomic-force microscopy imaging reveals differences in the pore formation mechanism with and without the presence of PE. Therefore, PS and PE lipids synergistically combine to enhance membrane poration by MP1, implying that the combined enrichment of both these lipids in the outer leaflet of cancer cells is highly significant for MP1’s anticancer action. These mechanistic insights could aid development of novel chemotherapeutics that target pathological changes in the lipid composition of cancerous cells.