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J Biol Chem. 2001 Mar 16;276(11):7806-10. Epub 2000 Dec 11.

Hepcidin, a urinary antimicrobial peptide synthesized in the liver.

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Departments of Medicine and Pathology, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California 90059, USA.


Cysteine-rich antimicrobial peptides are abundant in animal and plant tissues involved in host defense. In insects, most are synthesized in the fat body, an organ analogous to the liver of vertebrates. From human urine, we characterized a cysteine-rich peptide with three forms differing by amino-terminal truncation, and we named it hepcidin (Hepc) because of its origin in the liver and its antimicrobial properties. Two predominant forms, Hepc20 and Hepc25, contained 20 and 25 amino acid residues with all 8 cysteines connected by intramolecular disulfide bonds. Reverse translation and search of the data bases found homologous liver cDNAs in species from fish to human and a corresponding human genomic sequence on human chromosome 19. The full cDNA by 5' rapid amplification of cDNA ends was 0.4 kilobase pair, in agreement with hepcidin mRNA size on Northern blots. The liver was the predominant site of mRNA expression. The encoded prepropeptide contains 84 amino acids, but only the 20-25-amino acid processed forms were found in urine. Hepcidins exhibited antifungal activity against Candida albicans, Aspergillus fumigatus, and Aspergillus niger and antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and group B Streptococcus. Hepcidin may be a vertebrate counterpart of cysteine-rich antimicrobial peptides produced in the fat body of insects.

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