One of the last untapped reservoirs in nature for the identification of new anti-microbials is bacteriophages, the natural killers of bacteria. Lytic bacteriophages encode peptidoglycan (PG) lytic enzymes able to degrade the PG layer in different steps of their infection cycle. Endolysins degrade the bacterial cell wall at the end of the infection cycle, causing lysis of the host to release the viral progeny. Recombinant endolysins have been successfully applied as anti-bacterial agent against antibiotic-resistant Gram-positive pathogens. This has boosted the study of these enzymes as new anti-microbials in different fields (e.g. medical, food technology). A key example is the recent development of endolysin-based anti-bacterials against Gram-negative pathogens in which the exogenous application of endolysins is hindered by the outer membrane (OM). These novel anti-microbials, termed Artilysin®s, are able to pass through the OM and reach the PG where they exert their action. In addition, mycobacteria whose cell wall is structurally different from both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria have also been reported to be inhibited by mycobacteriophage-encoded endolysins. Endolysins and endolysin-based anti-microbials can be considered as ideal candidates for an alternative to antibiotics for several reasons: (1) their unique mode of action and activity against bacterial persisters (independent of an active host metabolism), (2) their selective activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogens (including antibiotic resistant strains) and mycobacteria, (3) the limited resistance development reported so far. The present review summarizes and discusses the potential applications of endolysins as new anti-microbials.

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