Defensive weapons and defense signals in plants: some metabolites serve both roles

Bioessays. 2015 Feb;37(2):167-74. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400124. Epub 2014 Nov 12.


The defense of plants against herbivores and pathogens involves the participation of an enormous range of different metabolites, some of which act directly as defensive weapons against enemies (toxins or deterrents) and some of which act as components of the complex internal signaling network that insures that defense is timed to enemy attack. Recent work reveals a surprising trend: The same compounds may act as both weapons and signals of defense. For example, two groups of well-studied defensive weapons, glucosinolates and benzoxazinoids, trigger the accumulation of the protective polysaccharide callose as a barrier against aphids and pathogens. In the other direction, several hormones acting in defense signaling (and their precursors and products) exhibit activity as weapons against pathogens. Knowing which compounds are defensive weapons, which are defensive signals and which are both is vital for understanding the functioning of plant defense systems.

Keywords: benzoxazinoids; defenses against herbivores; defenses against pathogens; glucosinolates; phytohormones; secondary metabolites; volatiles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzoxazines / metabolism
  • Glucans / metabolism
  • Glucosinolates / metabolism
  • Herbivory / physiology*
  • Plant Growth Regulators / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Benzoxazines
  • Glucans
  • Glucosinolates
  • Plant Growth Regulators
  • callose