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J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Oct;129(10):2489-96. doi: 10.1038/jid.2009.106. Epub 2009 Jun 18.

Histone H4 is a major component of the antimicrobial action of human sebocytes.

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Division of Dermatology, University of California San Diego and VA San Diego Healthcare Center, San Diego, California, USA.


Antimicrobial peptides, such as cathelicidin and beta defensins, directly kill microbes and have been detected in human sebaceous glands and cell lines. Despite the presence of several such peptides, the apparent abundance of these is insufficient for direct killing of most skin pathogens. In this study, we sought to determine which molecules provide the majority of antimicrobial peptide activity in human sebocytes. Acid-soluble protein extracts of SEB-1 sebocytes were separated by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and were assayed for their capacity to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus. Antimicrobial activity was isolated in a single major fraction and identified to be histone H4 by mass spectrometry and western blot analysis. The importance of histone H4 in the antimicrobial activity of sebocytes was confirmed by a specific neutralizing antibody and by direct demonstration that recombinant histone H4 had antimicrobial activity against S. aureus and Propionibacterium acnes. In addition, histone H4 enhanced the antimicrobial action of free fatty acids in human sebum. Taken together, these results indicate that the release of histone H4 by holocrine secretion from the sebaceous gland may play an important role in innate immunity.

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