, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 437-455

Antifungal proteins: targets, mechanisms and prospective applications

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All organisms have evolved several defence systems in order to protect themselves against bacteria, fungi and viruses. Higher organisms have developed a complex network of humoral and cellular responses, called adaptive immunity. A second defence system, innate immunity, was discovered in the early 1980s, consisting of small cationic peptides with a broad antimicrobial spectrum. These proteins act immediately at sites of infection or inflammation. The production of proteins with antimicrobial activity was not limited to higher organisms but was also found in insects, plants and microorganisms. During the last 2decades a broad range of proteins with very different structural features have been isolated and characterised from differing organisms ranging from bacteria to human beings. Over 500cationic membrane-acting proteins with antimicrobial and antifungal activities have been identified to date. Apart from these proteins, a very large number of antifungal proteins active on the fungal cell wall, on enzymes of the cell wall synthesis machinery, the plasma membrane and on intracellular targets have been characterised.

Received 17 June 2003; received after revision 4 August 2003; accepted 18 August 2003