Host defense peptides as new weapons in cancer treatment

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2005 Apr;62(7-8):784-90. doi: 10.1007/s00018-005-4560-2.


In the last decade intensive research has been conducted to determine the role of innate immunity host defense peptides (also termed antimicrobial peptides) in the killing of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Many antimicrobial peptides damage the cellular membrane as part of their killing mechanism. However, it is not clear what makes cancer cells more susceptible to some of these peptides, and what the molecular mechanisms underlying these activities are. Two general mechanisms were suggested: (i) plasma membrane disruption via micellization or pore formation, and (ii) induction of apoptosis via mitochondrial membrane disruption. To be clinically used, these peptides need to combine high and specific anticancer activity with stability in serum. Although so far very limited, new studies have paved the way for promising anticancer host defense peptides with a new mode of action and with a broad spectrum of anticancer activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / drug effects*
  • Defensins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Phosphatidylserines


  • Defensins
  • Phosphatidylserines