Functional & Integrative Genomics

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as

Serpins in plants and green algae

  • Thomas H. RobertsEmail author
  • Jørn Hejgaard


Control of proteolysis is important for plant growth, development, responses to stress, and defence against insects and pathogens. Members of the serpin protein family are likely to play a critical role in this control through irreversible inhibition of endogenous and exogenous target proteinases. Serpins have been found in diverse species of the plant kingdom and represent a distinct clade among serpins in multicellular organisms. Serpins are also found in green algae, but the evolutionary relationship between these serpins and those of plants remains unknown. Plant serpins are potent inhibitors of mammalian serine proteinases of the chymotrypsin family in vitro but, intriguingly, plants and green algae lack endogenous members of this proteinase family, the most common targets for animal serpins. An Arabidopsis serpin with a conserved reactive centre is now known to be capable of inhibiting an endogenous cysteine proteinase. Here, knowledge of plant serpins in terms of sequence diversity, inhibitory specificity, gene expression and function is reviewed. This was advanced through a phylogenetic analysis of amino acid sequences of expressed plant serpins, delineation of plant serpin gene structures and prediction of inhibitory specificities based on identification of reactive centres. The review is intended to encourage elucidation of plant serpin functions.


Serpin function Serpin evolution Proteinase inhibitor Inhibitory specificity Plant defence Seed proteins Phloem proteins Green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii Plant kingdom Arabidopsis thaliana Oryza sativa Hordeum vulgare Triticum aestivum 



We thank Moreland Gibbs and David Briscoe (Macquarie University) for advice on the phylogenetic analysis; Roberts’ past and current research students Karlie Neilson, Tom Joss and Joon-Woo Ahn for helpful discussions; Robert Fluhr (Weizmann Institute) for insights into the possible roles of plant serpins; and Macquarie University for funding support.


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© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular SciencesMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  2. 2.Biochemistry and Nutrition Group, BioCentrumTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark

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