Nanoparticle incorporation of melittin reduces sperm and vaginal epithelium cytotoxicity

Andrew P. Jallouk, Kelle H. Moley, Kenan Omurtag, Grace Hu, Gregory M. Lanza, Samuel A. Wickline, Joshua L. Hood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Melittin is a cytolytic peptide component of bee venom which rapidly integrates into lipid bilayers and forms pores resulting in osmotic lysis. While the therapeutic utility of free melittin is limited by its cytotoxicity, incorporation of melittin into the lipid shell of a perfluorocarbon nanoparticle has been shown to reduce its toxicity in vivo. Our group has previously demonstrated that perfluorocarbon nanoparticles containing melittin at concentrations <10 μM inhibit HIV infectivity in vitro. In the current study, we assessed the impact of blank and melittin-containing perfluorocarbon nanoparticles on sperm motility and the viability of both sperm and vaginal epithelial cells. We found that free melittin was toxic to sperm and vaginal epithelium at concentrations greater than 2 μM (pμ0.001). However, melittin nanoparticles were not cytotoxic to sperm (p = 0.42) or vaginal epithelium (p = 0.48) at an equivalent melittin concentration of 10 μM. Thus, nanoparticle formulation of melittin reduced melittin cytotoxicity fivefold and prevented melittin toxicity at concentrations previously shown to inhibit HIV infectivity. Melittin nanoparticles were toxic to vaginal epithelium at equivalent melittin concentrations ≥20 μM (p<0.001) and were toxic to sperm at equivalent melittin concentrations ≥40 μM (p<0.001). Sperm cytotoxicity was enhanced by targeting of the nanoparticles to the sperm surface antigen sperm adhesion molecule 1. While further testing is needed to determine the extent of cytotoxicity in a more physiologically relevant model system, these results suggest that melittin-containing nanoparticles could form the basis of a virucide that is not toxic to sperm and vaginal epithelium. This virucide would be beneficial for HIV serodiscordant couples seeking to achieve natural pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere95411
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 18 2014


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