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Mediators of Inflammation
Volume 2017 (2017), Article ID 5186904, 12 pages
Review Article

The Role of Defensins in HIV Pathogenesis

1Division of Comparative Pathology, Tulane National Primate Research Center, Covington, LA, USA
2Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA
3Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Correspondence should be addressed to Bapi Pahar

Received 14 March 2017; Accepted 24 July 2017; Published 3 August 2017

Academic Editor: Maria Rosaria Catania

Copyright © 2017 Barcley T. Pace et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Profound loss of CD4+ T cells, progressive impairment of the immune system, inflammation, and sustained immune activation are the characteristics of human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) infection. Innate immune responses respond immediately from the day of HIV infection, and a thorough understanding of the interaction between several innate immune cells and HIV-1 is essential to determine to what extent those cells play a crucial role in controlling HIV-1 in vivo. Defensins, divided into the three subfamilies α-, β-, and θ-defensins based on structure and disulfide linkages, comprise a critical component of the innate immune response and exhibit anti-HIV-1 activities and immunomodulatory capabilities. In humans, only α- and β-defensins are expressed in various tissues and have broad impacts on HIV-1 transmission, replication, and disease progression. θ-defensins have been identified as functional peptides in Old World monkeys, but not in humans. Instead, θ-defensins exist only as pseudogenes in humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. The use of the synthetic θ-defensin peptide “retrocyclin” as an antiviral therapy was shown to be promising, and further research into the development of defensin-based HIV-1 therapeutics is needed. This review focuses on the role of defensins in HIV-1 pathogenesis and highlights future research efforts that warrant investigation.