The cathelicidin anti-microbial peptide LL-37 is involved in re-epithelialization of human skin wounds and is lacking in chronic ulcer epithelium

J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Mar;120(3):379-89. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.2003.12069.x.


The human cathelicidin anti-microbial protein, hCAP18 is a component of the innate immune system and has broad anti-microbial activity conferred by its C-terminal fragment LL-37. hCAP18 is constitutively produced in leukocytes and is induced in barrier organs upon inflammation and infection. We demonstrate here a novel role for this peptide in re-epithelialization of skin wounds. We show that high levels of hCAP18 are produced in skin in vivo upon wounding. The highest hCAP18 levels are attained at 48 h post-injury, declining to pre-injury levels upon wound closure. hCAP18 is detected in the inflammatory infiltrate and in the epithelium migrating over the wound bed. In chronic ulcers, however, hCAP18 levels are low and immunoreactivity for hCAP18/LL-37 is absent in ulcer edge epithelium. Using a noninflammatory ex vivo wound healing model, composed of organ-cultured human skin, we show that hCAP18 is strongly expressed in healing skin epithelium, and that treatment with antibodies raised and affinity purified against LL-37, inhibits re-epithelialization in a concentration-dependent manner. Immunoreactivity for the proliferation marker Ki67 is absent in the epithelium of such inhibited wounds, suggesting that LL-37 may play a part in epithelial cell proliferation. Thus, we suggest that, in addition to being an anti-microbial peptide, LL-37 also plays a part in wound closure and that its reduction in chronic wounds impairs re-epithelialization and may contribute to their failure to heal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies / pharmacology
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / immunology
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / pharmacology
  • Bacillus megaterium / drug effects
  • Cathelicidins
  • Chronic Disease
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Epithelium / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Immune Sera / pharmacology
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism
  • Keratinocytes / pathology
  • Ki-67 Antigen / analysis
  • Leg Ulcer / metabolism*
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Skin / injuries*
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / physiopathology*
  • Wound Healing / drug effects
  • Wound Healing / physiology*
  • Wounds, Penetrating / pathology
  • Wounds, Penetrating / physiopathology*


  • Antibodies
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Cathelicidins
  • Immune Sera
  • Ki-67 Antigen