Multifunctional host defense peptides: antimicrobial peptides, the small yet big players in innate and adaptive immunity

FEBS J. 2009 Nov;276(22):6497-508. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2009.07360.x. Epub 2009 Oct 9.


The term 'antimicrobial peptides' refers to a large number of peptides first characterized on the basis of their antibiotic and antifungal activities. In addition to their role as endogenous antibiotics, antimicrobial peptides, also called host defense peptides, participate in multiple aspects of immunity (inflammation, wound repair, and regulation of the adaptive immune system) as well as in maintaining homeostasis. The possibility of utilizing these multifunctional molecules to effectively combat the ever-growing group of antibiotic-resistant pathogens has intensified research aimed at improving their antibiotic activity and therapeutic potential, without the burden of an exacerbated inflammatory response, but conserving their immunomodulatory potential. In this minireview, we focus on the contribution of small cationic antimicrobial peptides - particularly human cathelicidins and defensins - to the immune response and disease, highlighting recent advances in our understanding of the roles of these multifunctional molecules.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / immunology*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism
  • Cathelicidins / immunology
  • Cathelicidins / metabolism
  • Defensins / immunology
  • Defensins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Cathelicidins
  • Defensins