A basic, 51 kDa protein was purified from suspension-cultured tomato and shown to inhibit the hydrolytic activity of a xyloglucan-specific endoglucanase (XEG) from the fungus Aspergillus aculeatus. The tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) protein, termed XEG inhibitor protein (XEGIP), inhibits XEG activity by forming a 1 : 1 protein:protein complex with a Ki ≈ 0.5 nm. To our knowledge, XEGIP is the first reported proteinaceous inhibitor of any endo-β-1,4-glucanase, including the cellulases. The cDNA encoding XEGIP was cloned and sequenced. Database analysis revealed homology with carrot extracellular dermal glycoprotein (EDGP), which has a putative role in plant defense. XEGIP also has sequence similarity to ESTs from a broad range of plant species, suggesting that XEGIP-like genes are widely distributed in the plant kingdom. Although Southern analysis detected only a single XEGIP gene in tomato, at least five other XEGIP-like tomato sequences have been identified. Similar small families of XEGIP-like sequences are present in other plants, including Arabidopsis. XEGIP also has some sequence similarity to two previously characterized proteins, basic globulin 7S protein from soybean and conglutin γ from lupin. Several amino acids in the XEGIP sequence, notably 8 of the 12 cysteines, are generally conserved in all the XEGIP-like proteins we have encountered, suggesting a fundamental structural similarity. Northern analysis revealed that XEGIP is widely expressed in tomato vegetative tissues and is present in expanding and maturing fruit, but is downregulated during ripening.