Open Access Open Badges Research article

Association of a genetic polymorphism (-44 C/G SNP) in the human DEFB1 gene with expression and inducibility of multiple β-defensins in gingival keratinocytes

Andrea A Kalus1, L Page Fredericks23, Beth M Hacker2, Henrik Dommisch24, Richard B Presland1, Janet R Kimball2 and Beverly A Dale1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine/Dermatology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

2 Department of Oral Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

3 Veterinary Clinical Medicine Department, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61802, USA

4 Poliklinik für Parodontologie, Zahnerhaltung und Präventive Zahnheilkunde, Universitätsklinikum Bonn, Welschnonnenstrasse 17, 53111 Bonn, Germany

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BMC Oral Health 2009, 9:21  doi:10.1186/1472-6831-9-21

Published: 27 August 2009



Human β-defensins (hBDs) are antimicrobial peptides with a role in innate immune defense. Our laboratory previously showed that a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the 5' untranslated region of the hBD1 gene (DEFB1), denoted -44 (rs1800972), is correlated with protection from oral Candida. Because this SNP alters the putative mRNA structure, we hypothesized that it alters hBD1 expression.


Transfection of reporter constructs and evaluation of antimicrobial activity and mRNA expression levels in keratinocytes from multiple donors were used to evaluate the effect of this SNP on constitutive and induced levels of expression.


Transfection of CAT reporter constructs containing the 5' untranslated region showed that the -44 G allele yielded a 2-fold increase in CAT protein compared to other common haplotypes suggesting a cis effect on transcription or translation. The constitutive hBD1 mRNA level in human oral keratinocytes was significantly greater in cells from donors with the -44 GG genotype compared to those with the common CC genotype. Surprisingly, the hBD3 mRNA level as well as antimicrobial activity of keratinocyte extracts also correlated with the -44 G allele. Induced levels of hBD1, hBD2, and hBD3 mRNA were evaluated in keratinocytes challenged with Toll-like receptor 2 and 4 ligands, interleukin-1β, TNFα, and interferon-γ (IFNγ). In contrast to constitutive expression levels, IFNγ-induced keratinocyte hBD1 and hBD3 mRNA expression was significantly greater in cells with the common CC genotype, but there was no clear correlation of genotype with hBD2 expression.


The DEFB1 -44 G allele is associated with an increase in overall constitutive antimicrobial activity and expression of hBD1 and hBD3 in a manner that is consistent with protection from candidiasis, while the more common C allele is associated with IFNγ inducibility of these β-defensins and is likely to be more protective in conditions that enhance IFNγ expression such as chronic periodontitis. These results suggest a complex relationship between genetics and defensin expression that may influence periodontal health and innate immune responses.