Human β-defensin 2 ameliorates acute GVHD by limiting ileal neutrophil infiltration and restraining T cell receptor signaling

Sci Transl Med. 2022 Dec 21;14(676):eabp9675. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abp9675. Epub 2022 Dec 21.


Acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD), which is driven by allogeneic T cells, has a high mortality rate and limited treatment options. Human β-defensin 2 (hBD-2) is an endogenous epithelial cell-derived host-defense peptide. In addition to its antimicrobial effects, hBD-2 has immunomodulatory functions thought to be mediated by CCR2 and CCR6 in myeloid cells. In this study, we analyzed the effect of recombinant hBD-2 on aGVHD development. We found that intestinal β-defensin expression was inadequately induced in response to inflammation in two independent cohorts of patients with aGVHD and in a murine aGVHD model. Treatment of mice with hBD-2 reduced GVHD severity and mortality and modulated the intestinal microbiota composition, resulting in reduced neutrophil infiltration in the ileum. Furthermore, hBD-2 treatment decreased proliferation and proinflammatory cytokine production by allogeneic T cells in vivo while preserving the beneficial graft-versus-leukemia effect. Using transcriptome and kinome profiling, we found that hBD-2 directly dampened primary murine and human allogeneic T cell proliferation, activation, and metabolism in a CCR2- and CCR6-independent manner by reducing proximal T cell receptor signaling. Furthermore, hBD-2 treatment diminished alloreactive T cell infiltration and the expression of genes involved in T cell receptor signaling in the ilea of mice with aGVHD. Together, we found that both human and murine aGVHD were characterized by a lack of intestinal β-defensin induction and that recombinant hBD-2 represents a potential therapeutic strategy to counterbalance endogenous hBD-2 deficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Graft vs Host Disease* / drug therapy
  • Graft vs Host Disease* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Ileum
  • Mice
  • Neutrophil Infiltration
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • beta-Defensins* / genetics
  • beta-Defensins* / metabolism
  • beta-Defensins* / pharmacology


  • beta-Defensins
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell