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Biochemistry. 2005 Jul 19;44(28):9804-16.

Structure-activity relation of human beta-defensin 3: influence of disulfide bonds and cysteine substitution on antimicrobial activity and cytotoxicity.

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IPF PharmaCeuticals GmbH, Feodor-Lynen-Strasse 31, D-30625 Hannover, Germany.


Human beta-defensins form a group of cysteine-rich antimicrobial peptides which have been found in epithelial tissue and, more recently, in the male genital tract. They play a role in the defense against microbial pathogens in innate immunity and display additional chemotactic functions in the adaptive immune system. An important characteristic of antimicrobial peptides is that they also exhibit toxic potential on eukaryotic cells. Very little is known about the structure dependence of antimicrobial and cytotoxic effects. We investigated human beta-defensin 3 (hBD-3), a potent broad-spectrum antimicrobial effector peptide, regarding the influence of structural parameters on the antimicrobial and cytotoxic activity. We have established a structure-activity relation of the hBD-3 using synthetic derivatives differing in length, charge, disulfide connectivity, and overall hydrophobicity. The antimicrobial activity of the peptides was compared to the cyctotoxic effects on monocytic THP-1 cells and the hemolytic activity on human erythrocytes. We found that it is not important for antimicrobial and cytotoxic activity whether and how cysteine residues are arranged to form disulfide bonds. Substitution of half-cystinyl residues by tryptophan resulted in increased activities, while other substitutions did not change activity. Correlation of activities with the structural changes demonstrates that the activity on eukaryotic cells appears to depend strongly on the overall hydrophobicity. In contrast, the antimicrobial potency of hBD-3 peptides is determined by the distribution of positively charged amino acid residues and hydrophobic side chains. The results facilitate the understanding of beta-defensin interaction with different cell types and guide the design of antimicrobially active peptides.

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