Ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs) are toxic -glycosidases that depurinate the universally conserved α-sarcin loop of large rRNAs. This depurination inactivates the ribosome, thereby blocking its further participation in protein synthesis. RIPs are widely distributed among different plant genera and within a variety of different tissues. Recent work has shown that enzymatic activity of at least some RIPs is not limited to site-specific action on the large rRNAs of ribosomes but extends to depurination and even nucleic acid scission of other targets. Characterization of the physiological effects of RIPs on mammalian cells has implicated apoptotic pathways. For plants, RIPs have been linked to defense by antiviral, antifungal, and insecticidal properties demonstrated in vitro and in transgenic plants. How these effects are brought about, however, remains unresolved. At the least, these results, together with others summarized here, point to a complex biological role. With genetic, genomic, molecular, and structural tools now available for integrating different experimental approaches, we should further our understanding of these multifunctional proteins and their physiological functions in plants.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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