Any of a group of hormones that regulate plant growth, particularly by stimulating cell elongation in stems and inhibiting it in roots. Auxins influence the growth of stems toward light (phototropism) and against the force of gravity (geotropism). Auxins also play a role in cell division and differentiation, fruit development, the formation of roots from cuttings, the inhibition of lateral branching, and leaf fall. The most important naturally occurring auxin is beta-indolylacetic acid.
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The most important member of the auxin family is indole-3-acetic acid (IAA). It generates the majority of auxin effects in intact plants, and is the most potent native auxin. However, molecules of IAA are chemically labile in aqueous solution, so IAA is not used commercially as a plant growth regulator.
Auxins are often used to promote initiation of adventitious roots and are the active ingredient of the commercial preparations used in horticulture to root stem cuttings. They can also be used to promote uniform flowering, to promote fruit set, and to prevent premature fruit drop.
Used in high doses, auxin stimulates the production of ethylene. Excess ethylene can inhibit elongation growth, cause leaves to fall (leaf abscission), and even kill the plant. Some synthetic auxins such as 2,4-D and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) have been used as herbicides. Broad-leaf plants (dicots) such as dandelions are much more susceptible to auxins than narrow-leaf plants (monocots) like grass and cereal crops. These synthetic auxins were the active agents in Agent Orange, a defoliant used extensively by American forces in the Vietnam War.
In 2005, it was demonstrated that the F-box protein TIR1, which is part of the ubiquitin ligase complex SCFTIR1, is an auxin receptor. Upon auxin binding TIR1 recruits specific transcriptional repressors (the Aux/IAA repressors) for ubiquitination by the SCF complex. This marking process leads to the degradation of the repressors by the proteasome, alleviating repression and leading to specific gene expression in response to auxins (reviewed in ).
Another protein called ABP1 (Auxin Binding Protein 1) is a putative receptor, but its role is unclear. Electrophysiological experiments with protoplasts and anti-ABP1 antibodies suggest that ABP1 may have a function at the plasma membrane.
According to the acid growth hypothesis for auxin action, auxins may directly stimulate the early phases of cell elongation by causing responsive cells to actively transport hydrogen ions out of the cell, thus lowering the pH around cells. This acidification of the cell wall region activates wall-loosening proteins known as expansins, which allow slippage of cellulose microfibrils in the cell wall, making the cell wall less rigid. When the cell wall is loosened by the action of auxins, this now-less-rigid wall is expanded by cell turgor pressure, which presses against the cell wall.
However, the acid growth hypothesis does not by itself account for the increased synthesis and transport of cell wall precursors and secretory activity in the Golgi system that accompany and sustain auxin-promoted cell expansion.
An important principle of plant organization based upon auxin distribution is apical dominance, which means that the auxin produced by the apical bud (or growing tip) diffuses downwards and inhibits the development of ulterior lateral bud growth, which would otherwise compete with the apical tip for light and nutrients. Removing the apical tip and its suppressive hormone allows the lower dormant lateral buds to develop, and the buds between the leaf stalk and stem produce new shoots which compete to become the lead growth. This behavior is used in pruning by horticulturists.
Uneven distribution of auxin: To cause growth in the required domains, it is necessary that auxins be active preferentially in them. Auxins are not synthesized everywhere, but each cell retains the potential ability to do so, and only under specific conditions will auxin synthesis be activated. For that purpose, not only do auxins have to be translocated toward those sites where they are needed but there has to be an established mechanism to detect those sites. Translocation is driven throughout the plant body primarily from peaks of shoots to peaks of roots. For long distances, relocation occurs via the stream of fluid in phloem vessels, but, for short-distance transport, a unique system of coordinated polar transport directly from cell to cell is exploited. This process of polar auxin transport is directional and very strictly regulated. It is based in uneven distribution of auxin efflux carriers on the plasma membrane, which send auxins in the proper direction.
The plant hormone stimulates cell elongation. It stimulates the Wall Loosening Factors, for example, elastins, to loosen the cell walls. If gibberellins are also present, the effect is stronger. It also stimulates cell division if cytokinins are present. When auxin and cytokinin are applied to callus, rooting can be generated if the auxin concentration is higher than cytokinin concentration while xylem tissues can be generated when the auxin concentration is equal to the cytokinins.
It participates in phototropism, geotropism, hydrotropism and other developmental changes. The uneven distribution of auxin, due to environmental cues (for example, unidirectional light and gravity force), results in uneven plant tissue growth.
It also induces sugar and mineral accumulation at the site of application.
It inhibits abscission prior to formation of abscission layer and thus inhibits senescence of leaves.
It is required for fruit growth. When seeds are removed from strawberries, fruit growth is stopped; exogenous auxin stimulates the growth in seed removed fruits. For fruit with unfertilized seeds, exogenous auxin results in parthenocarpy ("virgin-fruit" growth).
Taiz, L. & Zeiger, E. (1998). Plant Physiology. 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates, Inc. 792 p.