• Antimicrobial peptides;
  • digestive tract;
  • epithelial defensins


While defensins have received great attention for their role in bronchial innate immune defence, little is known about the expression levels of the four human epithelial defensins (HD5, HD6, hBD1 and hBD2) in the digestive tract. In this study we quantified the α- and β-defensins mRNA in biopsies obtained from the gastrointestinal mucosa and identified the cells expressing the β-defensin hBD1 mRNA in ileal mucosa.

Material and methods

Biopsies from human stomach (corpus and antrum), duodenum, jejunum, ileum and colon were analysed for their expression of α- and β-defensins. The mRNA of defensins was quantified by semiquantitative reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction. Cells expressing β-defensin hBD1 mRNA were identified by in situ hybridization with 35S-labelled RNA probes in tissue sections of human ileum.


The hBD1 mRNA was expressed at low levels with little variability throughout the gastrointestinal tract and was detected in all epithelial cells of ileal mucosa. HD5 and HD6 mRNA expression was restricted to the intestine and displayed high interindividual variability. The highest expression levels were observed in jejunum and ileum. Biopsies obtained from duodenum displayed low levels or no expression of HD5 and HD6. The expression level increased considerably in a biopsy obtained from a patient with acute coeliac sprue. In contrast, low levels were observed in a biopsy from a patient with coeliac sprue in remission.


The expression levels of hBD1, HD5 and HD6 throughout the gastrointestinal tract are tissue and peptide specific and these defensins are expressed with high interindividual variability.