The sterol-binding activity of PATHOGENESIS-RELATED PROTEIN 1 reveals the mode of action of an antimicrobial protein

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Pathogenesis-related proteins played a pioneering role 50 years ago in the discovery of plant innate immunity as a set of proteins that accumulated upon pathogen challenge. The most abundant of these proteins, PATHOGENESIS-RELATED 1 (PR-1) encodes a small antimicrobial protein that has become, as a marker of plant immune signaling, one of the most referred to plant proteins. The biochemical activity and mode of action of PR-1 proteins has remained elusive, however. Here, we provide genetic and biochemical evidence for the capacity of PR-1 proteins to bind sterols, and demonstrate that the inhibitory effect on pathogen growth is caused by the sequestration of sterol from pathogens. In support of our findings, sterol-auxotroph pathogens such as the oomycete Phytophthora are particularly sensitive to PR-1, whereas sterol-prototroph fungal pathogens become highly sensitive only when sterol biosynthesis is compromised. Our results are in line with previous findings showing that plants with enhanced PR-1 expression are particularly well protected against oomycete pathogens.

Significance Statement

Pathogenesis-related proteins 1 (PR-1) are extracellular antimicrobial proteins whose expression is induced by pathogens, but their biochemical function was elusive. Here we provide genetic and biochemical evidence that PR-1 proteins are sterol-binding proteins that sequester sterols from pathogens and thereby inhibit their growth.

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