The human cathelicidin, LL-37, induces granzyme-mediated apoptosis in regulatory T cells

Jamie S. Mader, Catherine Ewen, Robert Hancock, Robert C. Bleackley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)


LL-37 is a human cationic host defense peptide (antimicrobial peptide) belonging to the cathelicidin family of peptides. In this study, LL-37 was shown to kill stimulated and nonstimulated CD4CD25FoxP3 T cells (regulatory T cells; Tregs) through apoptosis, while having no cytotoxic effect on CD4CD25 T cells at the same LL-37 concentrations. Of interest, Tregs were much more sensitive to LL-37 than many other cells, dying at 10-fold lower concentrations than other cell types tested. LL-37 exposure resulted in DNA fragmentation, chromatin condensation, and apoptotic body formation, all indicative of an apoptotic form of cell death. The importance of granzyme family members in the apoptosis of Tregs after LL-37 treatment was analyzed by using C57Bl/6 lymphocytes obtained from mice that were homozygous for null mutations in the granzyme B gene, and both the granzyme A and B genes. Granzyme A and granzyme B were both shown to play a role in LL-37-induced apoptosis of Tregs. Further analysis showed that apoptosis occurred primarily through caspase-dependent apoptosis at high LL-37 concentrations. However, grA-dependent/caspase-independent cell death was also observed. This suggests that LL-37 induces apoptosis in Tregs through multiple different mechanisms, initiated by the LL-37-induced leakage of granzymes from cytolytic granules. Our results imply that LL-37 administered at the site of a tumor could influence the adaptive antitumor immune response by killing Tregs and thus inhibiting their suppressor activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-235
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Immunotherapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • apoptosis
  • granzyme
  • host defense peptide
  • regulatory T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research

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