Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are natural antibiotics produced by all living organisms. In metazoans, they act as host defense factors by eliminating microbial pathogens. But they also help to select the colonizing bacterial symbionts while coping with specific environmental challenges. Although many AMPs share common structural characteristics, for example having an overall size between 10–100 amino acids, a net positive charge, a γ-core motif, or a high content of cysteines, they greatly differ in coding sequences as a consequence of multiple parallel evolution in the face of pathogens. The majority of AMPs is specific of certain taxa or even typifying species. This is especially the case of annelids (ringed worms). Even in regions with extreme environmental conditions (polar, hydrothermal, abyssal, polluted, etc.), worms have colonized all habitats on Earth and dominated in biomass most of them while co-occurring with a large number and variety of bacteria. This review surveys the different structures and functions of AMPs that have been so far encountered in annelids and nematodes. It highlights the wide diversity of AMP primary structures and their originality that presumably mimics the highly diverse life styles and ecology of worms. From the unique system that represents marine annelids, we have studied the effect of abiotic pressures on the selection of AMPs and demonstrated the promising sources of antibiotics that they could constitute.
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