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Trends Immunol. 2002 Jun;23(6):291-6.

Mammalian defensins in immunity: more than just microbicidal.

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Laboratory of Molecular Immunoregulation, Center for Cancer Research, NCI, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.


Mammalian defensins are small, cationic, antimicrobial peptides encoded by the host that are considered to be important antibiotic-like effectors of innate immunity. By using chemokine receptors on dendritic cells and T cells, defensins might also contribute to the regulation of host adaptive immunity against microbial invasion. Defensins have considerable immunological adjuvant activity and linkage of beta-defensins or selected chemokines to an idiotypic lymphoma antigen has yielded potent antitumor vaccines. The functional overlap between defensins and chemokines is reinforced by reports that some chemokines have antimicrobial activities. Although showing similarity in activity and overall tertiary structure, the evolutionary relationship between defensins and chemokines remains to be determined.

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