WRKY transcription factors and plant defense responses: latest discoveries and future prospects

Plant Cell Rep. 2021 Jul;40(7):1071-1085. doi: 10.1007/s00299-021-02691-8. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


WRKY transcription factors are among the largest families of transcriptional regulators. In this review, their pivotal role in modulating various signal transduction pathways during biotic and abiotic stresses is discussed. Transcription factors (TFs) are important constituents of plant signaling pathways that define plant responses against biotic and abiotic stimuli besides playing a role in response to internal signals which coordinate different interacting partners during developmental processes. WRKY TFs, deriving their nomenclature from their signature DNA-binding sequence, represent one of the largest families of transcriptional regulators found exclusively in plants. By modulating different signal transduction pathways, these TFs contribute to various plant processes including nutrient deprivation, embryogenesis, seed and trichome development, senescence as well as other developmental and hormone-regulated processes. A growing body of research suggests transcriptional regulation of WRKY TFs in adapting plant to a variety of stressed environments. WRKY TFs can regulate diverse biological functions from receptors for pathogen triggered immunity, modulator of chromatin for specific interaction and signal transfer through a complicated network of genes. Latest discoveries illustrate the interaction of WRKY proteins with other TFs to form an integral part of signaling webs that regulate several seemingly disparate processes and defense-related genes, thus establishing their significant contributions to plant immune response. The present review starts with a brief description on the structural characteristics of WRKY TFs followed by the sections that present recent evidence on their roles in diverse biological processes in plants. We provide a comprehensive overview on regulatory crosstalks involving WRKY TFs during multiple stress responses in plants and future prospects of WRKY TFs as promising molecular diagnostics for enhancing crop improvement.

Keywords: Abiotic stress; Biotic stress; Crop improvement; Crosstalk; Functional domain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics
  • Crops, Agricultural / physiology
  • Multigene Family
  • Plant Growth Regulators / genetics
  • Plant Growth Regulators / metabolism
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plant Proteins / chemistry
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / physiology*
  • Plants / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*


  • Plant Growth Regulators
  • Plant Proteins
  • Transcription Factors