The fungal cell wall is the first point of contact between fungal pathogens and host organisms. It serves as a protective barrier against biotic and abiotic stresses and as a signal to the host that a fungal pathogen is present. The fungal cell wall is made predominantly of carbohydrates and glycoproteins, many of which serve as binding receptors for host defence molecules or activate host immune responses through interactions with membrane-bound receptors. Plant defensins are a large family of cationic antifungal peptides that protect plants against fungal disease. Binding of the plant defensin NaD1 to the fungal cell wall has been described but the specific component of the cell wall with which this interaction occurred was unknown. The effect of binding was also unclear, that is whether the plant defensin used fungal cell wall components as a recognition motif for the plant to identify potential pathogens or if the cell wall acted to protect the fungus against the defensin. Here we describe the interaction between the fungal cell wall polysaccharides chitin and β-glucan with NaD1 and other plant defensins. We discovered that the β-glucan layer protects the fungus against plant defensins and the loss of activity experienced by many cationic antifungal peptides at elevated salt concentrations is due to sequestration by fungal cell wall polysaccharides. This has limited the development of cationic antifungal peptides for the treatment of systemic fungal diseases in humans as the level of salt in serum is enough to inactivate most cationic peptides.
- Plant defensin