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Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 1998;9(4):399-414.

Epithelial antimicrobial peptides: review and significance for oral applications.

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Department of Periodontics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4905, USA.


Epithelial tissues provide the first line of defense between an organism and the environment. Disruption of this barrier leads to bacterial invasion and subsequent inflammation. This is precisely the situation existing in the human oral cavity, where tissues are constantly exposed to a variety of microbial challenges that can lead to bacterially induced periodontal diseases, and to infections of the oral mucosa by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. With the recent discoveries of host-derived peptide antibiotics in mammalian mucosal epithelium, a new line of investigation is emerging to test the hypothesis that one class of these peptides, called "beta-defensins", functions to protect the host against microbial pathogenesis at these critical, confrontational sites. In that light, impairment of beta-defensin activity has recently been implicated in chronic bacterial infections in cystic fibrosis patients. The first direct evidence of expression of defensin peptides in the oral mucosa was the identification of a novel epithelial beta-defensin in mammalian tongue. It was shown to be upregulated in inflammation, suggesting that it participates in host defense. It is theorized that epithelial cell-derived antimicrobial peptides function to keep the natural flora of micro-organisms in a steady state in different niches such as the skin, the intestines, the airway, the endocervix, and the mouth. There is now evidence indicating that normal gingival epithelial cells and tissues express two beta-defensins, hBD-1 and the newly described hBD-2. In addition, a cathelin-class antimicrobial peptide, designated LL-37 and found in human neutrophils, is also expressed in skin and gingiva. It is highly likely that these and/or other epithelial antimicrobial peptides play an important role in determining the outcome of the host-pathogen interaction at the oral mucosal barrier, and that they may have important future applications in antibiotic treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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