The mammalian intestine harbors complex societies of beneficial bacteria that are maintained in the lumen with minimal penetration of mucosal surfaces. Microbial colonization of germ-free mice triggers epithelial expression of RegIIIγ, a secreted C-type lectin. RegIIIγ binds intestinal bacteria but lacks the complement recruitment domains present in other microbe-binding mammalian C-type lectins. We show that RegIIIγ and its human counterpart, HIP/PAP, are directly antimicrobial proteins that bind their bacterial targets via interactions with peptidoglycan carbohydrate. We propose that these proteins represent an evolutionarily primitive form of lectin-mediated innate immunity, and that they reveal intestinal strategies for maintaining symbiotic host-microbial relationships.
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