Medical Definition of Defensin

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Defensin: A family of potent antibiotics made within the body by neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) and macrophages (cells that can engulf foreign particles). The defensins play important roles against invading microbes. They act against bacteria, fungi and viruses by binding to their membranes and increasing membrane permeability. On a chemical level, the defensins are small peptides unusually rich in the amino acid cysteine (Cys).The human defensins are classified into the alpha-defensins and beta-defensins on the basis of their sequence homology and their Cys residues.

From the Latin defendo, to repel. Defensin is also called human neutrophil peptide (HNP).

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Reviewed on 12/21/2018

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