The intestinal microbiota is increasingly acknowledged to play a crucial role in the development of obesity. A shift in intestinal microbiota composition favouring the presence of Firmicutes over Bacteroidetes has been observed in obese subjects. A similar shift has been reported in mice with deficiency of active Paneth cell alpha-defensins. We aimed at investigating changes in Paneth cell antimicrobial levels in the gut of obese subjects. Next, we studied activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) as a possible mechanism involved in altered Paneth cell function. Paneth cell numbers were counted in jejunal sections of 15 severely obese (BMI > 35) and 15 normal weight subjects. Expression of Paneth cell antimicrobials human alpha-defensin 5 (HD5) and lysozyme were investigated using immunohistochemistry, qPCR, and western blot. Activation of the UPR was assessed with western blot. Severely obese subjects showed decreased protein levels of both HD5 and lysozyme, while Paneth cell numbers were unchanged. Lysozyme protein levels correlated inversely with BMI. Increased expression of HD5 (DEFA5) and lysozyme (LYZ) transcripts in the intestine of obese subjects prompted us to investigate a possible translational block caused by UPR activation. Binding protein (BiP) and activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) levels were increased, confirming activation of the UPR in the gut of obese subjects. Furthermore, levels of both proteins correlated with BMI. Involvement of the UPR in the lowered antimicrobial protein levels in obese subjects was strongly suggested by a negative correlation between BiP levels and lysozyme levels. Additionally, indications of ER stress were apparent in Paneth cells of obese subjects. Our findings provide the first evidence for altered Paneth cell function in obesity, which may have important implications for the obesity-associated shift in microbiota composition. In addition, we show activation of the UPR in the intestine of obese subjects, which may underlie the observed Paneth cell compromise. Copyright (c) 2011 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.