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Sequence determinants in the cathelicidin LL-37 that promote inflammation via presentation of RNA to scavenger receptors.


Cathelicidins such as the human 37-amino acid peptide (LL-37) are peptides that not only potently kill microbes but also trigger inflammation by enabling immune recognition of endogenous nucleic acids. Here, a detailed structure-function analysis of LL-37 was performed to understand the details of this process. Alanine scanning of 34-amino acid peptide (LL-34) showed that some variants displayed increased antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and group A Streptococcus. In contrast, different substitutions clustered on the hydrophobic face of the LL-34 alpha helix inhibited the ability of those variants to promote type 1 interferon expression in response to U1 RNA or to present U1 to the scavenger receptor (SR) B1 on the keratinocyte cell surface. Small-angle X-ray scattering experiments of the LL-34 variants LL-34, F5A, I24A, and L31A demonstrated that these peptides form cognate supramolecular structures with U1 characterized by inter-dsRNA spacings of approximately 3.5 nm, a range that has been previously shown to activate toll-like receptor 3 by the parent peptide LL-37. Therefore, while alanine substitutions on the hydrophobic face of LL-34 led to loss of binding to SRs and the complete loss of autoinflammatory responses in epithelial and endothelial cells, they did not inhibit the ability to organize with U1 RNA in solution to associate with toll-like receptor 3. These observations advance our understanding of how cathelicidin mediates the process of innate immune self-recognition to enable inert nucleic acids to trigger inflammation. We introduce the term "innate immune vetting" to describe the capacity of peptides such as LL-37 to enable certain nucleic acids to become an inflammatory stimulus through SR binding prior to cell internalization.

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