Moniliophthora perniciosa (Stahel) Aime & Phillips‐Mora is the causal agent of witches’ broom disease (WBD) of cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) and a threat to the chocolate industry. The membrane‐bound enzyme alternative oxidase (AOX) is critical for M. perniciosa virulence and resistance to fungicides, which has also been observed in other phytopathogens. Notably AOX is an escape mechanism from strobilurins and other respiration inhibitors, making AOX a promising target for controlling WBD and other fungal diseases.
We present the first study aimed at developing novel fungal AOX inhibitors. N‐Phenylbenzamide (NPD) derivatives were screened in the model yeast Pichia pastoris through oxygen consumption and growth measurements. The most promising AOX inhibitor (NPD 7j‐41) was further characterized and displayed better activity than the classical AOX inhibitor SHAM in vitro against filamentous fugal phytopathogens, such as M. perniciosa, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and Venturia pirina. We demonstrate that 7j‐41 inhibits M. perniciosa spore germination and prevents WBD symptom appearance in infected plants. Finally, an structural model of P. pastoris AOX was created and used in ligand structure activity‐relationships analyses.
We present novel fungal AOX inhibitors with antifungal activity against relevant phytopathogens. We envisage the development of novel antifungal agents to secure food production.