Antimicrobial peptides are highly conserved evolutionarily and are thought to play an important role in innate immunity at intestinal mucosal surfaces. To better understand the role of the antimicrobial peptide human cathelicidin LL-37/human cationic antimicrobial protein 18 (hCAP18) in intestinal mucosal defense, we characterized the regulated expression and production of this peptide by human intestinal epithelium. LL-37/hCAP18 is shown to be expressed within epithelial cells located at the surface and upper crypts of normal human colon. Little or no expression was seen within the deeper colon crypts or within epithelial cells of the small intestine. Paralleling its expression in more differentiated epithelial cells in vivo, LL-37/hCAP18 mRNA and protein expression was upregulated in spontaneously differentiating Caco-2 human colon epithelial cells and in HCA-7 human colon epithelial cells treated with the cell differentiation-inducing agent sodium butyrate. LL-37/hCAP18 expression by colon epithelium does not require commensal bacteria, since LL-37/hCAP18 is produced with a similar expression pattern by epithelial cells in human colon xenografts that lack a luminal microflora. LL-37/hCAP18 mRNA was not upregulated in response to tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin 1α (IL-1α), gamma interferon, lipopolysaccharide, or IL-6, nor did the expression patterns and levels of LL-37/hCAP18 in the epithelium of the normal and inflamed colon differ. On the other hand, infection of HCA-7 cells with Salmonella enterica serovar Dublin or enteroinvasive Escherichia coli modestly upregulated LL-37/hCAP18 mRNA expression. We conclude that differentiated human colon epithelium expresses LL-37/hCAP18 as part of its repertoire of innate defense molecules and that the distribution and regulated expression of LL-37/hCAP18 in the colon differs markedly from that of other enteric antimicrobial peptides, such as defensins.
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