Brassinosteroids (BRs) are a group of naturally occurring plant steroidal compounds with wide-ranging biological activity that offer the unique possibility of increasing crop yields through both changing plant metabolism and protecting plants from environmental stresses. In recent years, genetic and biochemical studies have established an essential role for BRs in plant development, and on this basis BRs have been given the stature of a phytohormone. A remarkable feature of BRs is their potential to increase resistance in plants to a wide spectrum of stresses, such as low and high temperatures, drought, high salt, and pathogen attack. Despite this, only a few studies aimed at understanding the mechanism by which BRs promote stress resistance have been undertaken. Studies of the BR signaling pathway and BR gene-regulating properties indicate that there is cross-talk between BRs and other hormones, including those with established roles in plant defense responses such as abscisic acid, jasmonic acid, and ethylene. Recent studies aimed at understanding how BRs modulate stress responses suggest that complex molecular changes underlie BR-induced stress tolerance in plants. Analyses of these changes should generate exciting results in the future and clarify whether the ability of BRs to increase plant resistance to a range of stresses lies in the complex interactions of BRs with other hormones. Future studies should also elucidate if BRI1, an essential component of the BR receptor, directly participates in stress response signaling through interactions with ligands and proteins involved in plant defense responses.
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I thank Professor M. Perry for careful reading of the manuscript, and S. Kagale and Dr. Z. Zhang for assistance in preparation of the manuscript. Support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada is gratefully acknowledged.
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