• Antimicrobial peptide;
  • Defensin;
  • Epithelium;
  • Rhinovirus;
  • Respiratory infection


Human β-defensins (hBDs) are antimicrobial peptides that play important roles in host defense against infection, inflammation and immunity. Previous studies showed that micro-organisms and proinflammatory mediators regulate the expression of these peptides in airway epithelial cells. The aim of the present study was to investigate the modulation of expression of hBDs in cultured primary bronchial epithelial cells (PBEC) by rhinovirus-16 (RV16), a respiratory virus responsible for the common cold and associated with asthma exacerbations. RV16 was found to induce expression of hBD-2 and -3 mRNA in PBEC, but did not affect hBD-1 mRNA. Viral replication appeared essential for rhinovirus-induced β-defensin mRNA expression, since UV-inactivated rhinovirus did not increase expression of hBD-2 and hBD-3 mRNA. Exposure to synthetic double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecule polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid had a similar effect as RV16 on mRNA expression of these peptides in PBEC. In line with this, PBEC were found to express TLR3, a Toll-like receptor involved in recognition of dsRNA. This study shows that rhinovirus infection of PBEC leads to increased hBD-2 and hBD-3 mRNA expression, which may play a role in both the uncomplicated common cold and in virus-associated exacerbations of asthma.