Pathogen resistance of transgenic tobacco plants producing caffeine

Phytochemistry. 2008 Feb;69(4):882-8. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2007.10.021. Epub 2007 Nov 26.


Caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) is a typical purine alkaloid, and produced by a variety of plants such as coffee and tea. Its physiological function, however, is not completely understood, but chemical defense against pathogens and herbivores, and allelopathic effects against competing plant species have been proposed. Previously, we constructed transgenic tobacco plants, which produced caffeine up to 5 microg per gram fresh weight of leaves, and showed them to repel caterpillars of tobacco cutworms (Spodoptera litura). In the present study, we found that these transgenic plants constitutively expressed defense-related genes encoding pathogenesis-related (PR)-1a and proteinase inhibitor II under non-stressed conditions. We also found that they were highly resistant against pathogens, tobacco mosaic virus and Pseudomonas syringae. Expression of PR-1a and PR-2 was higher in transgenic plants than in wild-type plants during infection. Exogenously applied caffeine to wild-type tobacco leaves exhibited the similar resistant activity. These results suggested that caffeine stimulated endogenous defense system of host plants through directly or indirectly activating gene expression. This assumption is essentially consistent with the idea of chemical defense, in which caffeine may act as one of signaling molecules to activate defense response. It is thus conceivable that the effect of caffeine is bifunctional; direct interference with pest metabolic pathways, and activation of host defense systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caffeine / metabolism*
  • Caffeine / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant / drug effects
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Plant Diseases / genetics
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Plant Diseases / virology
  • Plant Leaves / genetics
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins / physiology
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / metabolism*
  • Pseudomonas syringae / growth & development
  • Tobacco / genetics
  • Tobacco / metabolism*
  • Tobacco Mosaic Virus / growth & development


  • Plant Proteins
  • Caffeine