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Ocul Surf. 2004 Oct;2(4):229-47.

Defensins and other antimicrobial peptides at the ocular surface.

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University of Houston, College of Optometry, Houston, Texas 77204-2020, USA.


Although constantly exposed to the environment and "foreign bodies" such as contact lenses and unwashed fingertips, the ocular surface succumbs to infection relatively infrequently. This is, in large part, due to a very active and robust innate immune response mounted at the ocular surface. Studies over the past 20 years have revealed that small peptides with antimicrobial activity are a major component of the human innate immune response system. The ocular surface is no exception, with peptides of the defensin and cathelicidin families being detected in the tear film and secreted by corneal and conjunctival epithelial cells. There is also much evidence to suggest that the role of some antimicrobial peptides is not restricted to direct killing of pathogens, but, rather, that they function in various aspects of the immune response, including recruitment of immune cells, and through actions on dendritic cells provide a link to adaptive immunity. A role in wound healing is also supported. In this article, the properties, mechanisms of actions and functional roles of antimicrobial peptides are reviewed, with particular emphasis on the potential multifunctional roles of defensins and LL-37 (the only known human cathelicidin) at the ocular surface.

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