Modulation of defensin expression may be one way to improve animal health and to reduce zoonotic diseases. Defensins are small, cationic, and amphipathic cysteine-rich antibiotic peptides found in plants, insects, mammals and birds. Whereas a- and udefensins appear to be absent in birds, several b-defensins have been isolated from avian heterophils. In addition, b-defensins were found to be constitutively or inducibly expressed at mucosal surfaces of the respiratory, intestinal and urogenital tracts. In this review the current knowledge of the defensin repertoire of birds, their tissue-specific expression, regulation and corresponding biological functions are described
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