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J Leukoc Biol. 2004 Jan;75(1):49-58. Epub 2003 Oct 2.

Expression and regulation of antimicrobial peptides in the gastrointestinal tract.

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Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation and Division of Gastroenterology, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.


The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is exposed to a wide range of microorganisms. The expression of antimicrobial peptides has been demonstrated in different regions of the GI tract, predominantly in epithelial cells, which represent the first host cells with which the microorganisms have to interact for invasion. The intestinal epithelial monolayer is complex, consisting of different cell types, and most have a limited lifespan. Of the GI antimicrobial peptides, alpha- and beta-defensins have been studied the most and are expressed by distinct types of epithelial cells. Enteric alpha-defensin expression is normally restricted to Paneth and intermediate cells in the small intestine. However, there are important differences between mice and humans in the processing of the precursor forms of enteric alpha-defensins. Parasite infection induces an increase in the number of enteric alpha-defensin-expressing Paneth and intermediate cells in the murine small intestine. In the chronically inflamed colonic mucosa, metaplastic Paneth cells (which are absent in the normal colon) also express enteric alpha-defensins. Epithelial expression of beta-defensins may be constitutive or inducible by infectious and inflammatory stimuli. The production of some members of the beta-defensin family appears to be restricted to distinct parts of the GI tract. Recent studies using genetically manipulated rodents have demonstrated the likely in vivo importance of enteric antimicrobial peptides in innate host defense against microorganisms. The ability of these peptides to act as chemoattractants for cells of the innate- and adaptive-immune system may also play an important role in perpetuating chronic inflammation in the GI tract.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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