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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Mar 8;102(10):3750-5. Epub 2005 Feb 22.

Expression of an additional cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide protects against bacterial skin infection.

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Division of Dermatology, University of California at San Diego, San Diego, CA 92161, USA.


Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptides are effectors of innate immune defense in mammals. Humans and mice have only one cathelicidin gene, whereas domesticated mammals such as the pig, cow, and horse have multiple cathelicidin genes. We hypothesized that the evolution of multiple cathelicidin genes provides these animals with enhanced resistance to infection. To test this, we investigated the effects of the addition of cathelicidins by combining synthetic cathelicidin peptides in vitro, by producing human keratinocytes that overexpress cathelicidins in culture, or by producing transgenic mice that constitutively overexpress cathelicidins in vivo. The porcine cathelicidin peptide PR-39 acted additively with human cathelicidin LL-37 to kill group A Streptococcus (GAS). Lentiviral delivery of PR-39 enhanced killing of GAS by human keratinocytes. Finally, transgenic mice expressing PR-39 under the influence of a K14 promoter showed increased resistance to GAS skin infection (50% smaller necrotic ulcers and 60% fewer surviving bacteria). Similarly constructed transgenic mice designed to overexpress their native cathelicidin did not show increased resistance. These findings demonstrate that targeted gene transfer of a xenobiotic cathelicidin confers resistance against infection and suggests the benefit of duplication and divergence in the evolution of antimicrobial peptides.

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