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J Mol Med (Berl). 2005 Aug;83(8):587-95. Epub 2005 Apr 9.

Human defensins.

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  • 1Klinik und Poliklinik für Dermatologie und Allergologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Frauenlobstrasse 9-11, 80337 Munich, Germany.


Antimicrobial peptides are small, cationic, amphiphilic peptides of 12-50 amino acids with microbicidal activity against both bacteria and fungi. The eukaryotic antimicrobial peptides may be divided into four distinct groups according to their structural features: cysteine-free alpha-helices, extended cysteine-free alpha-helices with a predominance of one or two amino acids, loop structures with one intramolecular disulfide bond, and beta-sheet structures which are stabilised by two or three intramolecular disulfide bonds. Mammalian defensins are part of the last-mentioned group. The mammalian defensins can be subdivided into three main classes according to their structural differences: the alpha-defensins, beta-defensins and the recently described theta-defensins. Mammalian alpha-defensins are predominantly found in neutrophils and in small intestinal Paneth cells, whereas mammalian beta-defensins have been isolated from both leukocytes and epithelial cells. Recently, two novel human beta-defensins, human beta-defensin-3 (HBD-3), and human beta-defensin-4 (HBD-4) have been discovered. Similar to HBD-1 and HBD-2, HBD-3 has microbicidal activity towards the Gram-negative bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli) and the yeasts Candida albicans and Malassezia furfur. In addition, HBD-3 kills Gram-positive bacteria such as Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus, including multi-resistant S. aureus strains, and even vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium. In contrast to HBD-1 and HBD-2, significant expression of HBD-3 has been demonstrated in non-epithelial tissues, such as leukocytes, heart and skeletal muscle. HBD-4 is expressed in certain epithelia and in neutrophils. Its bactericidal activity against P. aeruginosa is stronger than that of the other known beta-defensins. Here we present an overview of human antimicrobial peptides with some emphasis on their antifungal properties.

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