Objective: Various antimicrobial peptides such as defensins are part of innate immunity and contribute to the intestinal barrier that may be defective in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This study investigated beta-defensin mRNA and peptide expression in the colon from controls and patients with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or unspecific colitis as inflammatory controls.
Methods: Mucosal mRNA expression was measured by multiplex reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) with primers for human beta-defensin 1 (HBD-1) and human beta-defensin 2 (HBD-2) in CaCo-2 cells and in biopsies from 103 patients (33 controls, 24 Crohn's disease patients, 36 ulcerative colitis patients, 10 unspecific colitis patients). Paraffin-embedded tissue from colonic resections was tested for HBD-1 and HBD-2 peptides by immunohistochemistry.
Results: HBD-1 mRNA was expressed constitutively whereas HBD-2 was induced by pro-inflammatory cytokines in CaCo-2 cells. HBD-1 mRNA was detectable in 61% of control and Crohn's disease biopsies and 53% of ulcerative colitis biopsies. HBD-2 transcript was expressed differentially, with 18% of control biopsies positive as opposed to 34% in Crohn's disease and 53% in ulcerative colitis. HBD-2 mRNA but not HBD-1 mRNA was expressed preferentially in inflamed areas. Immunohistochemical investigation demonstrated the presence of defensin peptides in colonic epithelium as well as the differential induction in IBD.
Conclusions: HBD-1 is expressed constitutively in colonic tissue irrespective of inflammation. HBD-2 is barely present in uninflamed colon but it is induced in inflammation. The lower expression of HBD-2 in Crohn's disease compared with ulcerative colitis indicates different responses of the mucosal innate defence. Defensins may play a crucial role in controlling pathogen invasion in IBD, although the functional significance remains to be established.