Desmethyl butenolides are optimal ligands for karrikin receptor proteins

Jiaren Yao, Adrian Scaffidi, Yongjie Meng, Kim T. Melville, Aino Komatsu, Aashima Khosla, David C. Nelson, Junko Kyozuka, Gavin R. Flematti, Mark T. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Strigolactones and karrikins are butenolide molecules that regulate plant growth. They are perceived by the α/β-hydrolase DWARF14 (D14) and its homologue KARRIKIN INSENSITIVE2 (KAI2), respectively. Plant-derived strigolactones have a butenolide ring with a methyl group that is essential for bioactivity. By contrast, karrikins are abiotic in origin, and the butenolide methyl group is nonessential. KAI2 is probably a receptor for an endogenous butenolide, but the identity of this compound remains unknown. Here we characterise the specificity of KAI2 towards differing butenolide ligands using genetic and biochemical approaches. We find that KAI2 proteins from multiple species are most sensitive to desmethyl butenolides that lack a methyl group. Desmethyl-GR24 and desmethyl-CN-debranone are active by KAI2 but not D14. They are more potent KAI2 agonists compared with their methyl-substituted reference compounds both in vitro and in plants. The preference of KAI2 for desmethyl butenolides is conserved in Selaginella moellendorffii and Marchantia polymorpha, suggesting that it is an ancient trait in land plant evolution. Our findings provide insight into the mechanistic basis for differential ligand perception by KAI2 and D14, and support the view that the endogenous substrates for KAI2 and D14 have distinct chemical structures and biosynthetic origins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1016
Number of pages14
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021 May


  • butenolide
  • differential scanning fluorimetry
  • intrinsic tryptophan fluorescence
  • karrikin
  • plant hormone
  • strigolactone
  • α/β-hydrolase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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