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J Innate Immun. 2012;4(4):337-48. doi: 10.1159/000336619. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

β-Defensins: multifunctional modulators of infection, inflammation and more?

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MRC Human Genetics Unit, Medical Research Council Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Defensins comprise one of the largest groups of host defence peptides, present throughout evolution, in fungi and flowering plants as well as in invertebrates and vertebrates. These cysteine-rich, cationic peptides have a common ability to kill a broad range of microorganisms including bacteria, yeast and viruses. As such, they are a strong component of the arsenal that is an organism's innate immunity. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that antimicrobial action is only one of the numerous roles of these multifunctional peptides. In recent years, the functions of defensins in immunomodulation have been widely investigated, and their involvement in other processes (such as fertility) is becoming evident. This review addresses recent advances in the immunomodulatory activity of β-defensins as well as the involvement of β-defensins in fertility, development, wound healing and cancer.

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