The growing public health problem of infections caused by multiresistant Gram-positive bacteria, in particular Staphylococcus aureus, prompted us to screen human epithelia for endogenous S. aureus-killing factors. A novel 5-kDa, nonhemolytic antimicrobial peptide (human beta-defensin-3, hBD-3) was isolated from human lesional psoriatic scales and cloned from keratinocytes. hBD-3 demonstrated a salt-insensitive broad spectrum of potent antimicrobial activity against many potentially pathogenic microbes including multiresistant S. aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium. Ultrastructural analyses of hBD-3-treated S. aureus revealed signs of cell wall perforation. Recombinant hBD-3 (expressed as a His-Tag-fusion protein in Escherichia coli) and chemically synthesized hBD-3 were indistinguishable from naturally occurring peptide with respect to their antimicrobial activity and biochemical properties. Investigation of different tissues revealed skin and tonsils to be major hBD-3 mRNA-expressing tissues. Molecular cloning and biochemical analyses of antimicrobial peptides in cell culture supernatants revealed keratinocytes and airway epithelial cells as cellular sources of hBD-3. Tumor necrosis factor alpha and contact with bacteria were found to induce hBD-3 mRNA expression. hBD-3 therefore might be important in the innate epithelial defense of infections by various microorganisms seen in skin and lung, such as cystic fibrosis.
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