Primate β-defensins - Structure, function and evolution

Sergio Crovella, Nikolinka Antcheva, Igor Zelezetsky, Michele Boniotto, Sabrina Pacor, Maria Vittoria Verga Falzacappa, Alessandro Tossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Host defense peptides (HDPs) are endogenous antibiotics that play a multifunctional role in the innate immunity of mammals. Among these, β-defensins contribute to mucosal and epithelial defense, also acting as signal molecules for cellular components of innate and adaptive immunity. Numerous members of this family have been identified in mammalian and avian species, and genomic studies in human and mouse indicate a considerable complexity in their gene organization. Recent reports on the evolution of primate and rodent members of this family indicate quite a complex pattern of variation. In this review we briefly discuss the evolution of mammalian β-defensins in relation to other types of defensins, and then concentrate on the evolution of β-defensins 1 to 4 in primates. In particular, the surprisingly varied patterns of evolution, which range from neutral or weakly purifying, to positive selection to a high level of conservation are analyzed in terms of possible genetics, structural or functional implications, as well as to observed variations on the antimicrobial activity in vitro. The role of polymorphisms in the genes encoding for these host defense peptides in determining susceptibility to human diseases are also briefly considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-21
Number of pages15
JournalCurrent Protein and Peptide Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2005


  • β-defensin
  • Antimicrobial peptide
  • Host defense
  • Innate immunity
  • Molecular evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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