Bacterial Periplasmic Oxidoreductases Control the Activity of Oxidized Human Antimicrobial β-Defensin 1

Infect Immun. 2018 Mar 22;86(4):e00875-17. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00875-17. Print 2018 Apr.


The antimicrobial peptide human β-defensin 1 (hBD1) is continuously produced by epithelial cells in many tissues. Compared to other defensins, hBD1 has only minor antibiotic activity in its native state. After reduction of its disulfide bridges, however, it becomes a potent antimicrobial agent against bacteria, while the oxidized native form (hBD1ox) shows specific activity against Gram-negative bacteria. We show that the killing mechanism of hBD1ox depends on aerobic growth conditions and bacterial enzymes. We analyzed the different activities of hBD1 using mutants of Escherichia coli lacking one or more specific proteins of their outer membrane, cytosol, or redox systems. We discovered that DsbA and DsbB are essential for the antimicrobial activity of hBD1ox but not for that of reduced hBD1 (hBD1red). Furthermore, our results strongly suggest that hBD1ox uses outer membrane protein FepA to penetrate the bacterial periplasm space. In contrast, other bacterial proteins in the outer membrane and cytosol did not modify the antimicrobial activity. Using immunogold labeling, we identified the localization of hBD1ox in the periplasmic space and partly in the outer membrane of E. coli However, in resistant mutants lacking DsbA and DsbB, hBD1ox was detected mainly in the bacterial cytosol. In summary, we discovered that hBD1ox could use FepA to enter the periplasmic space, where its activity depends on presence of DsbA and DsbB. HBD1ox concentrates in the periplasm in Gram-negative bacteria, which finally leads to bleb formation and death of the bacteria. Thus, the bacterial redox system plays an essential role in mechanisms of resistance against host-derived peptides such as hBD1.

Keywords: antimicrobial peptides; defensins; hBD1; innate host defense; periplasmic oxidoreductases DsbA and DsbB; redox regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / immunology
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / immunology
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Membranes / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism*
  • Periplasmic Proteins / metabolism*
  • beta-Defensins / genetics
  • beta-Defensins / immunology
  • beta-Defensins / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DEFB1 protein, human
  • Periplasmic Proteins
  • beta-Defensins
  • Oxidoreductases
  • periplasmic protein disulfide oxidoreductase