The covalent chemical bonds are formed when the carboxyl group of one amino acid reacts with the amine group of another. The shortest peptides are dipeptides, consisting of 2 amino acids joined by a single peptide bond, followed by tripeptides,tetrapeptides, etc. A polypeptide is a long, continuous, and unbranched peptide chain. Hence, peptides fall under the broad chemical classes of biological oligomers and polymers, alongside nucleic acids, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, etc.
Peptides are distinguished from proteins on the basis of size, and as an arbitrary benchmark can be understood to contain approximately 50 or fewer amino acids. Proteins consist of one or more polypeptides arranged in a biologically functional way, often bound to ligands such as coenzymes and cofactors, or to another protein or other macromolecule (DNA, RNA, etc.), or to complex macromolecular assemblies. Finally, while aspects of the lab techniques applied to peptides versus polypeptides and proteins differ (e.g., the specifics of electrophoresis, chromatography, etc.), the size boundaries that distinguish peptides from polypeptides and proteins are not absolute: long peptides such as amyloid beta have been referred to as proteins, and smaller proteins like insulin have been considered peptides.
Amino acids that have been incorporated into peptides are termed “residues” due to the release of either a hydrogen ion from the amine end or a hydroxyl ion from the carboxyl end, or both, as a water molecule is released during formation of each amide bond. All peptides except cyclic peptides have an N-terminal and C-terminal residue at the end of the peptide (as shown for the tetrapeptide in the image).