Defensins are key participants in mucosal innate defense. The varied antimicrobial activity and differential distribution of defensins at mucosal sites indicate that peptide repertoires are tailored to site-specific innate defense requirements. Nonetheless, few studies have investigated changes in peptide profiles and function after in vivo pathogen challenge. Here, we determined defensin profiles in urethral secretions of healthy men and men with Chlamydia trachomatis- and Neisseria gonorrhoeae-mediated urethritis by immunoblotting for the epithelial defensins HBD1, HBD2, and HD5 and the neutrophil defensins HNP1 to -3 (HNP1-3). HBD1 was not detectable in secretions, and HBD2 was only induced in a small proportion of the urethritis patients; however, HD5 and HNP1-3 were increased in C. trachomatis infection and significantly elevated in M gonorrhoeae infection. When HNP1-3 levels were low, HD5 appeared mostly as the propeptide; however, when HNP1-3 levels were > 10 μg/ml, HD5 was proteolytically processed, suggesting neutrophil proteases might contribute to HD5 processing. HD5 and HNP1-3 were bactericidal against C. trachomatis and N. gonorrhoeae, but HD5 activity was dependent upon N-terminal processing of the peptide. In vitro proteolysis of proHD5 by neutrophil proteases and analysis of urethral secretions by surface-enhanced laser desorption ionization substantiated that neutrophils contribute the key convertases for proHDS in the urethra during these infections. This contrasts with the small intestine, where Paneth cells secrete both proHD5 and its processing enzyme, trypsin. In conclusion, we describe a unique defensin expression repertoire in response to inflammatory sexually transmitted infections and a novel host defense mechanism wherein epithelial cells collaborate with neutrophils to establish an antimicrobial barrier during infection.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases