Defensins are small antimicrobial peptides that are produced by leukocytes and epithelial cells, and that have an important role in innate immunity. Recent advances in understanding the mechanisms of the antiviral action(s) of defensins indicate that they have a dual role in antiviral defence, acting directly on the virion and on the host cell. This Review focuses on the antiviral activities and mechanisms of action of mammalian defensins, and on the clinical relevance of these activities. Understanding the complex function of defensins in innate immunity against viral infection has implications for the prevention and treatment of viral disease.
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