Defensins are a newly recognized class of small, cationic polypeptides that have in vitro microbicidal activity toward certain bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Human neutrophil granules were separated into 13 density fractions by using a high-resolution Percoll gradient centrifugation procedure, and the distribution of the three defensin polypeptides in these fractions was determined. Levels of defensins and several granule marker proteins were estimated in each fraction from relative staining intensities of bands following acid-urea and sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) of total acid-extractable proteins. These results were confirmed by enzyme immunoassay measurements of defensins and quantitative determinations of the typical azurophil granule components, myeloperoxidase, beta- glucuronidase, lysozyme, and elastase. The five higher density granule fractions (H1 through H5) contained fourfold higher relative amounts of defensins as compared with the eight lower density fractions (L1 through L8), accounting for approximately 50% of the total protein. In particular, fraction H5 was especially enriched in defensins but was relatively deficient in myeloperoxidase, beta-glucuronidase, lysozyme, and elastase. Ultrastructural morphology showed that fraction H5 contained the largest granules. Seventy percent of these granules exhibited electron-dense rims and electron-lucent central regions when stained with methanolic uranyl acetate-lead citrate, and 70% showed this same characteristic rim-staining pattern after limited reaction (30 minutes) for peroxidase with diaminobenzidine. These distinctively large, rim-stained granules were identified in intact, mature peripheral blood neutrophils as well as in human bone marrow promyelocytes, indicating that their synthesis occurs during early myeloid development. This unusual granule type may play a specialized role in the microbicidal functions of the neutrophil, distinct from that of typical azurophil granules.

This content is only available as a PDF.