Indole-3-acetic acid (auxin) is considered one of the cardinal hormones in plant growth and development. It regulates a wide range of processes throughout the plant. Synthetic auxins exploit the auxin-signaling pathway and are valuable as herbicidal agrochemicals. Currently, despite a diversity of chemical scaffolds all synthetic auxins have a carboxylic acid as the active core group. By applying bio-isosteric replacement we discovered that indole-3-tetrazole was active by surface plasmon resonance spectrometry, showing that the tetrazole could initiate assembly of the Transport Inhibitor Resistant 1 (TIR1) auxin coreceptor complex. We then tested the tetrazole’s efficacy in a range of whole plant physiological assays and in protoplast reporter assays, which all confirmed auxin activity, albeit rather weak. We then tested indole-3-tetrazole against the AFB5 homologue of TIR1, finding that binding was selective against TIR1, absent with AFB5. The kinetics of binding to TIR1 are contrasted to those for the herbicide picloram, which shows the opposite receptor preference, as it binds to AFB5 with far greater affinity than to TIR1. The basis of the preference of indole-3-tetrazole for TIR1 was revealed to be a single residue substitution using molecular docking, and assays using tir1 and afb5 mutant lines confirmed selectivity in vivo. Given the potential that a TIR1-selective auxin might have for unmasking receptor-specific actions, we followed a rational design, lead optimization campaign, and a set of chlorinated indole-3-tetrazoles was synthesized. Improved affinity for TIR1 and the preference for binding to TIR1 was maintained for 4- and 6-chloroindole-3-tetrazoles, coupled with improved efficacy in vivo. This work expands the range of auxin chemistry for the design of receptor-selective synthetic auxins.

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