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J Biol Chem. 2004 Apr 23;279(17):17951-6. Epub 2004 Feb 11.

The human antimicrobial peptide LL-37 transfers extracellular DNA plasmid to the nuclear compartment of mammalian cells via lipid rafts and proteoglycan-dependent endocytosis.

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  • 1Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Section of Cell and Matrix Biology, Lund University, Biomedical Center C13, SE-221 84 Lund, Sweden.


Antimicrobial peptides, such as LL-37, are found both in nonvertebrates and vertebrates, where they represent important components of innate immunity. Bacterial infections at epithelial surfaces are associated with substantial induction of LL-37 expression, which allows efficient lysis of the invading microbes. Peptide-mediated lysis results in the release of bacterial nucleic acids with potential pathobiological activity in the host. Here, we demonstrate that LL-37 targets extracellular DNA plasmid to the nuclear compartment of mammalian cells, where it is expressed. DNA transfer occurred at physiological LL-37 concentrations that killed bacterial cells, whereas virtually no cytotoxic or growth-inhibitory effects were observed in mammalian cells. Furthermore, LL-37 protected DNA from serum nuclease degradation. LL-37.DNA complex uptake was a saturable time- and temperature-dependent process and was sensitive to cholesterol-depleting agents that are known to disrupt lipid rafts and caveolae, as shown by flow cytometry. Confocal fluorescence microscopy studies showed localization of internalized DNA to compartments stained by cholera toxin B, a marker of lipid rafts, but failed to demonstrate any co-localization of internalized DNA with caveolin-positive endocytotic vesicles. Moreover, LL-37-mediated plasmid uptake and reporter gene expression were strictly dependent on cell surface proteoglycans. We conclude that the human antimicrobial peptide LL-37 binds to, protects, and efficiently targets DNA plasmid to the nuclei of mammalian cells through caveolae-independent membrane raft endocytosis and cell surface proteoglycans.

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