- Small intestinal Paneth cells secrete alpha-defensin microbicidal peptides as mediators of innate enteric immunity. In mice, production of mature Paneth cell alpha-defensins, termed cryptdins (Crps), requires proteolytic activation of inactive precursors (pro-Crps) by the convertase matrix metalloproteinase-7. Proteolysis of mouse (pro-Crp4)(20-92) produces the specific cleavage intermediates pro-Crp4(44-92), pro-Crp4(54-92), and pro-Crp4(59-92). To identify which cleavage event enables bactericidal activity, recombinant pro-Crp4-processing intermediates were purified to homogeneity and assayed for bactericidal peptide activity. The in vitro bactericidal activities of pro-Crp4-processing intermediates were very similar to fully processed Crp4, contrasting the lack of bactericidal and membrane-disruptive activity shown by pro-Crp4(20-92). Thus, cleavage of pro-Crp4(20-92) at Ser(43) downward arrowIle(44) is sufficient to activate bactericidal activity, and amino acids in the pro-Crp4(20-43) of the proregion maintain the precursor in an inactive state. Because cationic Arg residues are determinants of Crp4 bactericidal peptide activity, we hypothesized that Asp and Glu residues in pro-Crp4(20-43) neutralize Crp4 Arg side chains in pro-Crp4(20-92). Therefore, a pro-Crp4(20-92) variant with Gly substitutions at all pro-Crp4(20-43) Asp and Glu positions ((DE/G)-pro-Crp4) was prepared, and it was bactericidal and lysed phospholipid vesicles under conditions where native pro-Crp4(20-92) lacks activity. These findings show that MMP-7 proteolysis of pro-Crp4(20-92) at Ser(43) downward arrowIle(44) converts inactive precursors to bactericidal forms by removal of covalently associated, inhibitory acidic amino acids from proximity with the Crp4 component of the molecule.