The human host defense peptide LL-37 induces apoptosis in a calpain- and apoptosis-inducing factor-dependent manner involving Bax activity

Jamie S. Mader, Neeloffer Mookherjee, Robert E.W. Hancock, R. Chris Bleackley

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43 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 Jurkat T leukemia cells via apoptosis. A loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, DNA fragmentation, and phosphatidylserine externalization were detected following LL-37 exposure, whereas apoptosis was independent of caspase family members. The specific apoptotic pathway induced by LL-37 was defined through the utilization of Jurkat cells modified to express antiapoptotic proteins, as well as cells deficient in various proteins associated with apoptosis. Of interest, both Bcl-2-overexpressing cells and cells deficient in Bax and Bak proteins displayed a significant reduction in LL-37-induced apoptosis. In addition, Jurkat cells modified in the Fas receptor-associated pathway showed no reduction in apoptosis when exposed to LL-37. Analysis of the involvement of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) in LL-37-mediated apoptosis revealed that AIF transferred from the mitochondria to the nucleus of cells exposed to LL-37, where it may lead to large-scale DNA fragmentation and chromatin condensation. AIF knockdown analysis resulted in LL-37-resistant cells. This suggests that AIF is mandatory in LL-37-mediated killing. Lastly, chelation or inhibition of Ca2+ or calpains inhibited LL-37-mediated killing. Further analysis revealed that calpains were required for LL-37-mediated Bax translocation to mitochondria. Together, these data show that LL-37-induced apoptosis is mediated via the mitochondria-associated pathway in a caspase-independent and calpain- and AIF-dependent manner that involves Bax activation and translocation to mitochondria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-702
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Cancer Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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