Plant latex and other exudates are saps that are exuded from the points of plant damage caused either mechanically or by insect herbivory. Although many (ca. 10%) of plant species exude latex or exudates, and although the defensive roles of plant latex against herbivorous insects have long been suggested by several studies, the detailed roles and functions of various latex ingredients, proteins and chemicals, in anti-herbivore plant defenses have not been well documented despite the wide occurrence of latex in the plant kingdom. Recently, however, substantial progress has been made. Several latex proteins, including cysteine proteases and chitin-related proteins, have been shown to play important defensive roles against insect herbivory. In the mulberry (Morus spp.)-silkworm (Bombyx mori) interaction, an old and well-known model system of plant-insect interaction, plant latex and its ingredients--sugar-mimic alkaloids and defense protein MLX56--are found to play key roles. Complicated molecular interactions between Apocynaceae species and its specialist herbivores, in which cardenolides and defense proteins in latex play key roles, are becoming more and more evident. Emerging observations suggested that plant latex, analogous to animal venom, is a treasury of useful defense proteins and chemicals that has evolved through interspecific interactions. On the other hand, specialist herbivores developed sophisticated adaptations, either molecular, physiological, or behavioral, against latex-borne defenses. The existence of various adaptations in specialist herbivores itself is evidence that latex and its ingredients function as defenses at least against generalists. Here, we review molecular and structural mechanisms, ecological roles, and evolutionary aspects of plant latex as a general defense against insect herbivory and we discuss, from recent studies, the unique characteristics of latex-borne defense systems as transport systems of defense substances are discussed based on recent studies.
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