The Antimicrobial Activity of the Cathelicidin LL37 Is Inhibited by F-actin Bundles and Restored by Gelsolin

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Antimicrobial peptides are part of the innate host defense system, and inactivation of these peptides is implicated in airway infections in cystic fibrosis (CF). The sputum of patients with CF contains anionic polyelectrolytes, including F-actin and DNA not found in normal airway fluid. These anionic filaments aggregate to contribute to the altered viscoelastic properties of CF sputum. We hypothesized that the airway components stabilizing bundles of F-actin and DNA are in part cationic antimicrobial agents, and that appropriate modification of diseased airway fluid of patients with CF might dissociate these bundles and restore antimicrobial activity. We demonstrate that the human cathelicidin peptide LL37 forms bundles with F-actin and DNA, which are dissolved by gelsolin and DNase, respectively. Coincident with bundle formation, antimicrobial activity of LL37 is inhibited by F-actin and DNA. Pseudomonas bacteria were killed by low concentrations of LL37, but killing was significantly reduced in the presence of F-actin. The actin filament-fragmenting protein gelsolin restored bactericidal activity nearly completely. In a growth inhibition assay, the effects of F-actin were confirmed, and DNA was also shown to inhibit the activity of LL37. When added to CF sputum, gelsolin significantly reduced the growth of bacteria, suggesting activation of endogenous antimicrobial factors. These findings may have therapeutic implications for treatments previously thought to alter only the viscoelastic properties of airway secretions and amplify the possible advantage of gelsolin in CF treatment.

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