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Oral Dis. 2011 Oct;17(7):628-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-0825.2011.01799.x. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

Beta-defensins: what are they really doing in the oral cavity?

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  • 1Department of Oral Biology, UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School, Newark, NJ 07101, USA.


Initially identified as broad-spectrum antimicrobial peptides, the members of the β-defensin family have increasingly been observed to exhibit numerous other activities, both in vitro and in vivo, that do not always relate directly to host defense. Much research has been carried out in the oral cavity, where the presence of commensal bacteria further complicates the definition of their role. In addition to direct antimicrobial activity, β-defensins exhibit potent chemotactic activity for a variety of innate immune cells, as well as stimulating other cells to secrete cytokines. They can also inhibit the inflammatory response, however, by the specific binding of microbe-associated molecular patterns. These patterns are also able to induce the expression of β-defensins in gingival epithelial cells, although significant differences are observed between different species of bacteria. Together these results suggest a complex model of a host-defense related function in maintenance of bacterial homeostasis and response to pathogens. This model is complicated, however, by numerous other observations of β-defensin involvement in cell proliferation, wound healing and cancer. Together, the in vitro, in vivo and human studies suggest that these peptides are important in the biology of the oral cavity; exactly how is still subject to speculation.

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