Alpha-defensin (IPR006081)

Short name: Alpha-defensin

Overlapping homologous superfamilies


Domain relationships


Defensins are 2-6 kDa, cationic, microbicidal peptides active against many Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, fungi, and enveloped viruses [PMID: 8528769], containing three pairs of intramolecular disulphide bonds. On the basis of their size and pattern of disulphide bonding, mammalian defensins are classified into alpha, beta and theta categories. Alpha-defensins, which have been identified in humans, monkeys and several rodent species, are particularly abundant in neutrophils, certain macrophage populations and Paneth cells of the small intestine.

Defensins are produced constitutively and/or in response to microbial products or proinflammatory cytokines. Some defensins are also called corticostatins (CS) because they inhibit corticotropin-stimulated corticosteroid production. The mechanism(s) by which microorganisms are killed and/or inactivated by defensins is not understood completely. However, it is generally believed that killing is a consequence of disruption of the microbial membrane. The polar topology of defensins, with spatially separated charged and hydrophobic regions, allows them to insert themselves into the phospholipid membranes so that their hydrophobic regions are buried within the lipid membrane interior and their charged (mostly cationic) regions interact with anionic phospholipid head groups and water. Subsequently, some defensins can aggregate to form `channel-like' pores; others might bind to and cover the microbial membrane in a `carpet-like' manner. The net outcome is the disruption of membrane integrity and function, which ultimately leads to the lysis of microorganisms. Some defensins are synthesized as propeptides which may be relevant to this process.

Human neutrophil-derived alpha-defensins (HNPs) are capable of enhancing phagocytosis by mouse macrophages. HNP1-3 have been reported to increase the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and IL-1, while decreasing the production of IL-10 by monocytes. Increased levels of proinflammatory factors (e.g. IL-1, TNF, histamine and prostaglandin D2) and suppressed levels of IL-10 at the site of microbial infection are likely to amplify local inflammatory responses. This might be further reinforced by the capacity of some human and rabbit alpha-defensins to inhibit the production of immunosuppressive glucocorticoids by competing for the binding of adrenocorticotropic hormone to its receptor. Moreover, human alpha-defensins can enhance or suppress the activation of the classical pathway of complement in vitro by binding to solid-phase or fluid-phase complement C1q, respectively. The capacity of defensins to enhance phagocytosis, promote neutrophil recruitment, enhance the production of proinflammatory cytokines, suppress anti-inflammatory mediators and regulate complement activation argues that defensins upregulate innate host inflammatory defences against microbial invasion.

GO terms

Biological Process

GO:0006952 defense response

Molecular Function

No terms assigned in this category.

Cellular Component

GO:0005576 extracellular region

Contributing signatures

Signatures from InterPro member databases are used to construct an entry.
PROSITE patterns