Proteolysis in plants: mechanisms and functions

Plant Mol Biol. 1996 Oct;32(1-2):275-302. doi: 10.1007/BF00039386.


Proteolysis is essential for many aspects of plant physiology and development. It is responsible for cellular housekeeping and the stress response by removing abnormal/misfolded proteins, for supplying amino acids needed to make new proteins, for assisting in the maturation of zymogens and peptide hormones by limited cleavages, for controlling metabolism, homeosis, and development by reducing the abundance of key enzymes and regulatory proteins, and for the programmed cell death of specific plant organs or cells. It also has potential biotechnological ramifications in attempts to improve crop plants by modifying protein levels. Accumulating evidence indicates that protein degradation in plants is a complex process involving a multitude of proteolytic pathways with each cellular compartment likely to have one or more. Many of these have homologous pathways in bacteria and animals. Examples include the chloroplast ClpAP protease, vacuolar cathepsins, the KEX2-like proteases of the secretory system, and the ubiquitin/26S proteasome system in the nucleus and cytoplasm. The ubiquitin-dependent pathway requires that proteins targeted for degradation become conjugated with chains of multiple ubiquitins; these chains then serve as recognition signals for selective degradation by the 26S proteasome, a 1.5 MDa multisubunit protease complex. The ubiquitin pathway is particularly important for developmental regulation by selectively removing various cell-cycle effectors, transcription factors, and cell receptors such as phytochrome A. From insights into this and other proteolytic pathways, the use of phosphorylation/dephosphorylation and/or the addition of amino acid tags to selectively mark proteins for degradation have become recurring themes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology
  • Hydrolysis
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism*


  • Plant Proteins