Through the looking glass, mechanistic insights from enantiomeric human defensins

Gang Wei, Erik de Leeuw, Marzena Pazgier, Weirong Yuan, Guozhang Zou, Jianfeng Wang, Bryan Ericksen, Wei Yue Lu, Robert I. Lehrer, Wuyuan Lu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Despite the small size and conserved tertiary structure of defensins, little is known at a molecular level about the basis of their functional versatility. For insight into the mechanism(s) of defensin function, we prepared enantiomeric pairs of four human defensins, HNP1, HNP4, HD5, and HBD2, and studied their killing of bacteria, inhibition of anthrax lethal factor, and binding to HIV-1 gp120. Unstructured HNP1, HD5, and HBD3 and several other human α- and β-defensins were also examined. Crystallographic analysis showed a plane of symmetry that related LHNP1 and DHNP1 to each other. Either D-enantiomerization or linearization significantly impaired the ability of HNP1 and HD5 to kill Staphylococcus aureus but not Escherichia coli. In contrast, LHNP4 and DHNP4 were equally bactericidal against both bacteria. D-Enantiomers were generally weaker inhibitors or binders of lethal factor and gp120 than their respective native, all-L forms, although activity differences were modest, particularly for HNP4. A strong correlation existed among these different functions. Our data indicate: (a) that HNP1 and HD5 kill E. coli by a process that is mechanistically distinct from their actions that kill S. aureus and (b) that chiral molecular recognition is not a stringent prerequisite for other functions of these defensins, including their ability to inhibit lethal factor and bind gp120 of HIV-1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29180-29192
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number42
StatePublished - 16 Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


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