Immunomodulatory Properties of Defensins and Cathelicidins
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Host defence peptides are a conserved component of the innate immune response in all complex life forms. In humans, the major classes of host defence peptides include the alpha- and beta-defensins and the cathelicidin, hCAP-18/LL-37. These peptides are expressed in the granules of neutrophils and by a wide variety of tissue types. They have many roles in the immune response including both indirect and direct antimicrobial activity, the ability to act as chemokines as well as induce chemokine production leading to recruitment of leukocytes to the site of infection, the promotion of wound healing and an ability to modulate adaptive immunity. It appears that many of these properties are mediated though direct interaction of peptides with the cells of the innate immune response including monocytes, dendritic cells, T cells and epithelial cells. The importance of these peptides in immune responses has been demonstrated since animals defective in the expression of certain host defence peptides show greater susceptibility to bacterial infections. In the very few instances in which human patients have been demonstrated to have defective host defence peptide expression, these individuals suffer from frequent infections. Although studies of the immunomodulatory properties of these peptides are in their infancy, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the immunomodulatory properties of these small, naturally occurring molecules might be harnessed for development as novel therapeutic agents.
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