[The role of defensins in the pathogenesis of chronic-inflammatory bowel disease]

Z Gastroenterol. 2004 Apr;42(4):333-8. doi: 10.1055/s-2004-813072.
[Article in German]


Defensins are endogenous antimicrobial peptides with a broad activity spectrum. Even at micromolar concentrations gramnegative and grampositive bacteria, but also mycobacteria, as well as fungi (candida), viruses (herpes) and protozoa (giardia lamblia) are destroyed. As part of the innate immune system defensins are expressed by the intestinal epithelium and contribute to the maintenance of the mucosal barrier. This barrier appears to be defective in inflammatory bowel diseases since on one hand, the immune response is directed against the "normal" luminal bacterial flora and on the other hand, mucosal adherent and invasive bacteria have been observed in these diseases. A defective defensin expression may well explain these phenomena. Indeed, Crohn's disease of the terminal ileum, especially if associated with a NOD2 mutation, is characterised by a diminished alpha-defensin (human defensin 5 and 6) expression, and in inflamed Crohn's colitis, in contrast to ulcerative colitis, the beta-defensin (human beta-defensins 2 and 3) response is reduced. Through a deficient chemical mucosal barrier this defect could lead to increased bacterial invasion into the intestinal mucosa and might well explain an adequate inflammatory response. Although the final proof that this deficient defensin response leads to a reduced antibacterial activity of the intestinal mucosa is still lacking, the most plausible concept of pathogenesis of Crohn's disease is a defensin deficiency syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / genetics
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism
  • Defensins / deficiency
  • Defensins / genetics*
  • Defensins / immunology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal / genetics
  • Immunity, Mucosal / immunology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / genetics*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / microbiology*


  • Defensins