Plants possess active defense systems and can protect themselves from pathogenic invasion by secretion of a variety of small antimicrobial or antifungal proteins such as thionins. The antibacterial and antifungal properties of thionins are derived from their ability to induce open pore formation on cell membranes of phytopathogens, resulting in release of potassium and calcium ions from the cell. Wheat thionin also accumulates in the cell walls of Fusarium-inoculated plants, suggesting that it may have a role in blocking pathogen infection at the plant cell walls. Here we developed an anti-thionin 2.4 (Thi2.4) antibody and used it to show that Thi2.4 is localized in the cell walls of Arabidopsis and cell membranes of F. graminearum, when flowers are inoculated with F. graminearum. The Thi2.4 protein had an antifungal effect on F. graminearum. Next, we purified the Thi2.4 protein, conjugated it with glutathione-S-transferase (GST) and coupled the proteins to an NHS-activated column. Total protein from F. graminearum was applied to GST-Thi2.4 or Thi2.4-binding columns, and the fungal fruit body lectin (FFBL) of F. graminearum was identified as a Thi2.4-interacting protein. This interaction was confirmed by a yeast two-hybrid analysis. To investigate the biological function of FFBL, we infiltrated the lectin into Arabidopsis leaves and observed that it induced cell death in the leaves. Application of FFBL at the same time as inoculation with F. graminearum significantly enhanced the virulence of the pathogen. By contrast, FFBL-induced host cell death was effectively suppressed in transgenic plants that overexpressed Thi2.4. We found that a 15 kD Thi2.4 protein was specifically expressed in flowers and flower buds and suggest that it acts not only as an antifungal peptide, but also as a suppressor of the FFBL toxicity. Secreted thionin proteins are involved in this dual defense mechanism against pathogen invasion at the plant-pathogen interface.
Host-pathogen interactions involve a multiplicity of mechanisms that coevolved for successful host resistance to pathogenic invasion or for overcoming host defenses by the pathogen. In our study, we focused on antifungal peptides called thionins that plants use for defense against a broad range of phytopathogens. Recently, a wheat thionin was shown to preferentially accumulate in plant cell walls, suggesting that it might have a novel function there during plant-pathogen interactions. We investigated this possible interaction in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana and found that the plant thionin 2.4 (Thi2.4) protein interacted with a secreted protein from the fungal species Fusarium graminearum named the fungal fruiting body lectin (FFBL). FFBL causes cell death in Arabidopsis leaves; however, its effect is largely prevented in Arabidopsis plants overexpressing the Thi2.4 protein, i.e., Thi2.4 can act as an effective trap against FFBL. We also found that inoculating flower buds with F. graminearum and FFBL reduces accumulation of Thi2.4 and that disease symptoms develop in the flower buds 2 days after inoculation. Thus, molecular competition between the two secretory proteins, host Thi2.4 and pathogen FFBL, in extracellular spaces is likely to determine whether or not host plants can prevent invasion by F. graminearum.