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Vernix caseosa as a multi-component defence system based on polypeptides, lipids and their interactions

Abstract.

Vernix caseosa is a white cream-like substance that covers the skin of the foetus and the newborn baby. Recently, we discovered antimicrobial peptides/proteins such as LL-37 in vernix, suggesting host defence functions of vernix. In a proteomic approach, we have continued to characterize proteins in vernix and have identified 20 proteins, plus additional variant forms. The novel proteins identified, considered to be involved in host defence, are cystatin A, UGRP-1, and calgranulin A, B and C. These proteins add protective functions to vernix such as antifungal activity, opsonizing capacity, protease inhibition and parasite inactivation. The composition of the lipids in vernix has also been characterized and among these compounds the free fatty acids were found to exhibit antimicrobial activity. Interestingly, the vernix lipids enhance the antimicrobial activity of LL-37 in vitro, indicating interactions between lipids and antimicrobial peptides in vernix. In conclusion, vernix is a balanced cream of compounds involved in host defence, protecting the foetus and newborn against infection.

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Correspondence to B. Agerberth.

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M. Tollin and G. Bergsson contributed equally to this work.

Received 14 June 2005; received after revision 1 August 2005; accepted 25 August 2005

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Tollin, M., Bergsson, G., Kai-Larsen, Y. et al. Vernix caseosa as a multi-component defence system based on polypeptides, lipids and their interactions. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. 62, 2390–2399 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00018-005-5260-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00018-005-5260-7

Key words.

  • Antimicrobial activity
  • innate immunity
  • neonates
  • protein fingerprinting
  • colonization
  • lipids