Oxford University Press
FEMS Microbiology Letters
Naturally occurring antimicrobial cationic polypeptides play a major role in innate and adaptive immunity. These polypeptides are found to be either linear and unstructured or structured through disulfide bonds. Among the structured antimicrobial polypeptides, defensins comprise a family of cysteine-rich cationic polypeptides that contribute significantly to host defense against the invasion of microorganisms in animals, humans, insects and plants. Their wide-spread occurrence in various tissues of these diverse organisms, and their importance in innate and adaptive immunity have led to their identification, isolation and characterization. A large volume of literature is available on defensins’ occurrence, structural characterization, gene expression and regulation under normal and pathological conditions. Much has also been published regarding their antimicrobial, antiviral and chemoattractive properties, and their molecular and cellular interactions. In this review, we describe the current status of our knowledge of defensins with respect to their molecular, cellular and structural biology, their role in host defense, future research paradigms and the possibility of their utilization as a new class of non-toxic antimicrobial agents and immuno-modulators.