Proteinase inhibitors in legume herbivore defense: from natural to genetically engineered protectants

Plant Cell Rep. 2022 Feb;41(2):293-305. doi: 10.1007/s00299-021-02800-7. Epub 2021 Oct 21.


Proteinase inhibitors (PIs) from legumes have the potential for use as protectants in response to pests and pathogens. Legumes have evolved PIs that inhibit digestive proteinases upon herbivory resulting in delayed development, deformities, and reduced fertility of herbivorous insects. Legume PIs (serine proteinase inhibitors and cysteine proteinase inhibitors) have been overexpressed in plants to confer plant protection against herbivores. Recently, the co-expression of multiple PIs in transgenic plants enhanced host defense over single PI expression, i.e., in an additive fashion. Therefore, a synthetic PI could conceivably be designed using different inhibitory domains that may provide multifunctional protection. Little attention has yet given to expanding PI gene repertoires to improve PI efficacy for targeting multiple proteinases. Also, PIs have been shown to play an important role in response to abiotic stresses. Previously published papers have presented several aspects of strategic deployment of PIs in transgenic plants, which is the focus of this review by providing a comprehensive update of the recent progress of using PIs in transgenic plants. We also emphasize broadening the potential usefulness of PIs and their future direction in research, which will likely result in a more potent defense against herbivores.

Keywords: Chimeric synthetic proteins; Chymotrypsin inhibitors; Defoliating insects; Digestive proteinases; Host defense; Insect resistance; Plant protection; Transgenic plants; Trypsin inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fabaceae / physiology*
  • Gene Editing / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Herbivory*
  • Insecta
  • Plant Breeding
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plants, Genetically Modified*
  • Protease Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • Synthetic Biology / methods


  • Plant Proteins
  • Protease Inhibitors