Plant defensin antibacterial mode of action against Pseudomonas species

Andrew E. Sathoff, Shawn Lewenza, Deborah A. Samac

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Though many plant defensins exhibit antibacterial activity, little is known about their antibacterial mode of action (MOA). Antimicrobial peptides with a characterized MOA induce the expression of multiple bacterial outer membrane modifications, which are required for resistance to these membrane-targeting peptides. Mini-Tn5-lux mutant strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa with Tn insertions disrupting outer membrane protective modifications were assessed for sensitivity against plant defensin peptides. These transcriptional lux reporter strains were also evaluated for lux gene expression in response to sublethal plant defensin exposure. Also, a plant pathogen, Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae was modified through transposon mutagenesis to create mutants that are resistant to in vitro MtDef4 treatments. Results: Plant defensins displayed specific and potent antibacterial activity against strains of P. aeruginosa. A defensin from Medicago truncatula, MtDef4, induced dose-dependent gene expression of the aminoarabinose modification of LPS and surface polycation spermidine production operons. The ability for MtDef4 to damage bacterial outer membranes was also verified visually through fluorescent microscopy. Another defensin from M. truncatula, MtDef5, failed to induce lux gene expression and limited outer membrane damage was detected with fluorescent microscopy. The transposon insertion site on MtDef4 resistant P. syringae pv. syringae mutants was sequenced, and modifications of ribosomal genes were identified to contribute to enhanced resistance to plant defensin treatments. Conclusions: MtDef4 damages the outer membrane similar to polymyxin B, which stimulates antimicrobial peptide resistance mechanisms to plant defensins. MtDef5, appears to have a different antibacterial MOA. Additionally, the MtDef4 antibacterial mode of action may also involve inhibition of translation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number173
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun. 2020


  • Antibacterial
  • lux reporter
  • Medicago
  • Plant defensin
  • Pseudomonas


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