Defensins: antifungal lessons from eukaryotes.

Author: 

Silva PM, Gonçalves S, Santos NC.
Front Microbiol. 2014 Mar 20;5:97. eCollection 2014.

Abstract: 

Over the last years, antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) have been the focus of intense research toward the finding of a viable alternative to current antifungal drugs. Defensins are one of the major families of AMPs and the most represented among all eukaryotic groups, providing an important first line of host defense against pathogenic microorganisms. Several of these cysteine-stabilized peptides present a relevant effect against fungi. Defensins are the AMPs with the broader distribution across all eukaryotic kingdoms, namely, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia, and were recently shown to have an ancestor in a bacterial organism. As a part of the host defense, defensins act as an important vehicle of information between innate and adaptive immune system and have a role in immunomodulation. This multidimensionality represents a powerful host shield, hard for microorganisms to overcome using single approach resistance strategies. Pathogenic fungi resistance to conventional antimycotic drugs is becoming a major problem. Defensins, as other AMPs, have shown to be an effective alternative to the current antimycotic therapies, demonstrating potential as novel therapeutic agents or drug leads. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge on some eukaryotic defensins with antifungal action. An overview of the main targets in the fungal cell and the mechanism of action of these AMPs (namely, the selectivity for some fungal membrane components) are presented. Additionally, recent works on antifungal defensins structure, activity, and cytotoxicity are also reviewed.