Defensins and cathelicidins in gastrointestinal infections

Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2007 Jan;23(1):32-8. doi: 10.1097/MOG.0b013e32801182c2.


Purpose of review: To review recently published studies presenting novel and relevant information on antimicrobial peptides in gastrointestinal infections.

Recent findings: Defensins and cathelicidins are important antimicrobial peptides expressed by the gastrointestinal epithelium. Their localization and regulation have been the focus of current research establishing the relevance of these peptides both in counteracting an attack by pathogens as well as in controlling the endogenous bacterial flora. In the small intestine, Paneth cell alpha-defensins maintain a low level of microorganisms and regulate the composition of the bacterial flora. In contrast, a constitutive beta-defensin can be found in nearly all gastrointestinal tissues. Other relevant beta-defensins as well as human cathelicidin are inducible by inflammation or infections. Thus Helicobacter pylori enhances defensin expression in the gastric mucosa and Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella provoke a similar response in the colon. Other pathogenic bacteria may suppress the antimicrobial peptide response as an escape strategy. Notably, the therapeutic induction of cathelicidins alleviates experimental shigellosis, suggesting a future role of endogenous antibiotics in medical therapy.

Summary: These recent findings together with a better understanding of underlying mechanisms involved in the regulation and biology of antimicrobial peptides will open up new therapeutic avenues to battle infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism*
  • Cathelicidins
  • Defensins / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / microbiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Defensins
  • Cathelicidins