Plant defensins are small, basic peptides that have a characteristic three-dimensional folding pattern that is stabilized by eight disulfide-linked cysteines. They are termed plant defensins because they are structurally related to defensins found in other types of organism, including humans. To date, sequences of more than 80 different plant defensin genes from different plant species are available. In Arabidopsis thaliana, at least 13 putative plant defensin genes (PDF) are present, encoding 11 different plant defensins. Two additional genes appear to encode plant defensin fusions. Plant defensins inhibit the growth of a broad range of fungi but seem nontoxic to either mammalian or plant cells. Antifungal activity of defensins appears to require specific binding to membrane targets. This review focuses on the classification of plant defensins in general and in Arabidopsis specifically, and on the mode of action of plant defensins against fungal pathogens.
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