- Cationic antimicrobial peptides serve as the first chemical barrier between all organisms and microbes. One of their main targets is the cytoplasmic membrane of the microorganisms. However, it is not yet clear why some peptides are active against one particular bacterial strain but not against others. Recent studies have suggested that the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) outer membrane is the first protective layer that actually controls peptide binding and insertion into Gram-negative bacteria. In order to shed light on these interactions, we synthesized and investigated a 12-mer amphipathic alpha-helical antimicrobial peptide (K(5)L(7)) and its diastereomer (4D-K(5)L(7)) (containing four d-amino acids). Interestingly, although both peptides strongly bind LPS bilayers and depolarize bacterial cytoplasmic membranes, only the diastereomer kills Gram-negative bacteria. Attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared, CD, and surface plasmon resonance spectroscopies revealed that only the diastereomer penetrates the LPS layer. In contrast, K(5)L(7) binds cooperatively to the polysaccharide chain and the outer phosphate groups. As a result, the self-associated K(5)L(7) is unable to traverse through the tightly packed LPS molecules, revealed by epifluorescence studies with LPS giant unilamellar vesicles. The difference in the peptides' modes of binding is further demonstrated by the ability of the diastereomer to induce LPS miscellization, as shown by transmission electron microscopy. In addition to increasing our understanding of the molecular basis of the protection of bacteria by LPS, this study presents a potential strategy to overcome resistance by LPS, and it should help in the design of antimicrobial peptides for future therapeutic purposes.