Roles and Mechanisms of Human Cathelicidin LL-37 in Cancer

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2018;47(3):1060-1073. doi: 10.1159/000490183. Epub 2018 May 25.


LL-37, the C-terminal peptide of human cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP, hCAP18), reportedly increases resistance to microbial invasion and exerts important physiological functions in chemotaxis, promotion of wound closure, and angiogenesis. Accumulating evidence indicates that LL-37 also plays a significant role in human cancer. LL-37 induces tumorigenic effects in cancers of the ovary, lung, breast, prostate, pancreas, as well as in malignant melanoma and skin squamous cell carcinoma. In contrast, LL-37 displays an anti-cancer effect in colon cancer, gastric cancer, hematologic malignancy and oral squamous cell carcinoma. Mechanistically, LL-37-induced activation of membrane receptors and subsequent signaling pathways lead to alteration of cellular functions. Different membrane receptors on various cancer cells appear to be responsible for the tissue-specific effects of LL-37. Meanwhile, the findings that vitamin D-dependent induction of cathelicidin in human macrophages activates the anti-cancer activity of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) and enhances antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) support critical roles of vitamin D-dependent induction of cathelicidin in cancer progression. This review describes novel advances involving the roles and mechanisms of human cathelicidin LL-37 in cancer.

Keywords: Anti-cancer; Cathelicidin; LL-37; Tumorigenic effect; hCAP-18.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibody-Dependent Cell Cytotoxicity*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Cathelicidins / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Neoplasm Proteins / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*
  • Vitamin D / immunology


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Cathelicidins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Vitamin D