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Ophthalmic Res. 2009;41(2):60-75. doi: 10.1159/000187622. Epub 2008 Dec 20.

The role of antimicrobial peptides at the ocular surface.

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College of Optometry, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204, USA.


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) such as defensins and cathelicidins are small peptides with broad-spectrum activity against bacteria, fungi and viruses. In addition, several AMPs modulate mammalian cell behaviours including migration, proliferation and cytokine production. This review describes findings from recent studies showing the presence of various AMPs at the human ocular surface and discusses their mechanism of antimicrobial action and potential non-microbicidal roles. Corneal and conjunctival epithelial cells produce beta-defensins and the cathelicidin LL-37, whereas neutrophils, infiltrating in response to a specific stimulus, supply additional LL-37 as well as alpha-defensins. In vitro studies suggest that LL-37 and human beta-defensin-3 are the most likely to have significant independent antimicrobial activity, while other AMPs may act synergistically to help protect the ocular surface from invading pathogens. Current evidence also supports a role for some AMPs in modulating wound healing responses. Although yet to be brought to fruition, AMPs hold significant potential as therapeutic agents for the prophylaxis and treatment of infection, promotion of wound healing and immune modulation.

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