Serpin protease inhibitors in plant biology

Robert Fluhr, Nardy Lampl, Thomas H. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Protease inhibitors of the serpin family are ubiquitous in the plant kingdom but relatively little is known about their biological functions in comparison with their counterparts in animals. X-ray crystal structures have provided crucial insights into animal serpin functions. The recently solved structure of AtSerpin1 from Arabidopsis thaliana, which has the highly conserved reactive center P2-P1' Leu-Arg-Xaa (Xaa = small residue), displays both conserved and plant-specific serpin features. Sequence homology suggests that AtSerpin1 belongs to serpin Clade B, composed of intracellular mammalian serpins, which is consistent with the lack of strong evidence for secretion of serpins from plant cells. The major in vivo target protease for AtSerpin1 is the papain-like cysteine RD21 protease, a match reminiscent of the inhibition of cathepsins K, L and S by the Clade-B mammalian serpin, SCCA-1 (SERPINB3). The function of AtSerpin1 and other serpins that contain P2-P1' Leu-Arg-Xaa (the 'LR' serpins) in plants remains unknown. However, based on its homology and interactive partners, AtSerpin1 and perhaps other serpins are likely to be involved in regulating programmed cell death or associated processes such as senescence. Abundant accumulation of serpins in seeds and their presence in phloem sap suggest additional functions in plant defense by irreversible inhibition of digestive proteases from pests or pathogens. Here we review the most recent findings in plant serpin biology, focusing on advances in describing the structure and inhibitory specificity of the LR serpins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-102
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiologia Plantarum
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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