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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Oct 29;93(22):12053-8.

Polypeptide signaling for plant defensive genes exhibits analogies to defense signaling in animals.

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  • 1Institute of Biological Chemistry, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-6340, USA.


The activation of plant defensive genes in leaves of tomato plants in response to herbivore damage or mechanical wounding is mediated by a mobile 18-amino acid polypeptide signal called systemin. Systemin is derived from a larger, 200-amino acid precursor called prosystemin, similar to polypeptide hormones and soluble growth factors in animals. Systemin activates a lipid-based signaling cascade, also analogous to signaling systems found in animals. In plants, linolenic acid is released from membranes and is converted to the oxylipins phytodienoic acid and jasmonic acid through the octadecanoid pathway. Plant oxylipins are structural analogs of animal prostaglandins which are derived from arachidonic acid in response to various signals, including polypeptide factors. Constitutive overexpression of the prosystemin gene in transgenic tomato plants resulted in the overproduction of prosystemin and the abnormal release of systemin, conferring a constitutive overproduction of several systemic wound-response proteins (SWRPs). The data indicate that systemin is a master signal for defense against attacking herbivores. The same defensive proteins induced by wounding are synthesized in response to oligosaccharide elicitors that are generated in leaf cells in response to pathogen attacks. Inhibitors of the octadecanoid pathway, and a mutation that interrupts this pathway, block the induction of SWRPs by wounding, systemin, and oligosaccharide elicitors, indicating that the octadecanoid pathway is essential for the activation of defense genes by all of these signals. The tomato mutant line that is functionally deficient in the octadecanoid pathway is highly susceptible to attacks by Manduca sexta larvae. The similarities between the defense signaling pathway in tomato leaves and those of the defense signaling pathways of macrophages and mast cells of animals suggests that both the plant and animal pathways may have evolved from a common ancestral origin.

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