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Medicines (Basel). 2019 Feb 19;6(1). pii: E29. doi: 10.3390/medicines6010029.

Medicinal Potentialities of Plant Defensins: A Review with Applied Perspectives.

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School of Agriculture and Biology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, China.
School of Life Science and Food Engineering, Huaiyin Institute of Technology, Huaian 223003, China.
Tecnologico de Monterrey, School of Engineering and Sciences, Campus Monterrey, Ave. Eugenio Garza Sada 2501, CP 64849 Monterrey, N.L., Mexico.


Plant-based secondary metabolites with medicinal potentialities such as defensins are small, cysteine-rich peptides that represent an imperative aspect of the inherent defense system. Plant defensins possess broad-spectrum biological activities, e.g., bactericidal and insecticidal actions, as well as antifungal, antiviral, and anticancer activities. The unique structural and functional attributes provide a nonspecific and versatile means of combating a variety of microbial pathogens, i.e., fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and enveloped viruses. Some defensins in plants involved in other functions include the development of metal tolerance and the role in sexual reproduction, while most of the defensins make up the innate immune system of the plants. Defensins are structurally and functionally linked and have been characterized in various eukaryotic microorganisms, mammals, plants, gulls, teleost species of fish, mollusks, insect pests, arachnidan, and crustaceans. This defense mechanism has been improved biotechnologically as it helps to protect plants from fungal attacks in genetically modified organisms (GMO). Herein, we review plant defensins as secondary metabolites with medicinal potentialities. The first half of the review elaborates the origin, structural variations, and mechanism of actions of plant defensins. In the second part, the role of defensins in plant defense, stress response, and reproduction are discussed with suitable examples. Lastly, the biological applications of plant defensins as potential antimicrobial and anticancer agents are also deliberated. In summary, plant defensins may open a new prospect in medicine, human health, and agriculture.


antimicrobial and anticancer activity; defensins; innate immunity; medicine; plant defense; secondary metabolites

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