Critical reviews in plant sciences vol:16 issue:3 pages:297-323
Peptides with antimicrobial properties are present in most if not all plant species. All plant antimicrobial peptides isolated so far contain even numbers of cysteines (4, 6, or 8), which are all pairwise connected by disulfide bridges, thus providing high stability to the peptides. Based on homologies at the primary structure level, plant antimicrobial peptides can be classified into distinct families including thionins, plant defensins, lipid transfer proteins, and hevein- and knottin-type antimicrobial peptides. Detailed three-dimensional structure information has been obtained for one or more members of these peptide families. All antimicrobial peptides studied thus far appear to exert their antimicrobial effect at the level of the plasma membrane of the target microorganism, but the different peptide types are likely to act via different mechanisms. Antimicrobial peptides can occur in all plant organs. In unstressed organs, antimicrobial peptides are usually most abundant in the outer cell layer lining the organ, which is consistent with a role for the antimicrobial peptides in constitutive host defense against microbial invaders attacking from the outside. Thionins are predominantly located intracellularly but are also found in the extracellular space, whereas most plant defensins and lipid transfer proteins are deposited exclusively in the extracellular space. In a number of plant species, a strong induction of genes expressing either thionins, plant defensins, or lipid transfer proteins has been observed on infection of the leaves by microbial pathogens. Hence, antimicrobial peptides can also take part in the inducible defense response of plants. Constitutive expression in transgenic plants of heterologous antimicrobial peptide genes has been achieved, which in some cases has led to enhanced resistance to particular microbial plant pathogens.