Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are evolutionarily conserved molecules involved in the defense mechanisms of a wide range of organisms. Produced in bacteria, insects, plants and vertebrates, AMPs protect against a broad array of infectious agents. In mammals these peptides protect against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and certain parasites. Recently, novel biologic effects of AMPs have been documented such as endotoxin neutralization, chemotactic and immunomodulating activities, induction of angiogenesis and wound repair. Thus these ancestral molecules are crucial components of the innate immune system and attractive candidates for novel therapeutic approaches. This review focuses on cathelicin and defensins, the most documented human AMPs, and discusses their antimicrobial activity and pleiotropic immunomodulating effects on inflammatory and infectious diseases.
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