Addition of catecholamines at micromolar concentrations caused a dramatic stimulation of growth of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) thin cell layers (TCLs) and Acmella oppositifolia "hairy" root cultures. A threefold increase in the rate of ethylene evolution was observed in the catecholamine-treated explants. Aminooxyacetic acid and silver thiosulfate, inhibitors of ethylene biosynthesis and action, respectively, reduced the growth-promoting effect of dopamine. However, these compounds alone could also inhibit the growth of the TCL explants. When ethylene in the culture vessel was depleted by trapping with mercuric perchlorate, dopamine-stimulated growth was still obtained, suggesting that ethylene does not mediate the dopamine effect. Dopamine potentiated the growth of TCLs grown in Murashige and Skoog medium supplemented with indoleacetic acid (IAA) and kinetin. When IAA was replaced by 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, dopamine addition showed no growth-promoting effect. Instead, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid stimulated the growth of TCL explants to the same extent as that obtained with IAA plus dopamine. Because synthetic auxins do not appear to be substrates for IAA oxidizing enzymes, we hypothesized that catecholamines exert their effect by preventing IAA oxidation. Consistent with this explanation, dopamine (25 micromolar) inhibited IAA oxidase activity by 60 to 100% in crude enzyme extracts from tobacco roots and etiolated corn coleoptiles, but had no effect on peroxidase activity in the same extracts. Furthermore, addition of dopamine to TCL cultures resulted in a fourfold reduction in the oxidative degradation of [1-(14)C]IAA fed to the explants. Because the growth enhancement by catecholamines is observed in both IAA-requiring and IAA-independent cultures, we suggest that these aromatic amines may have a role in the regulation of IAA levels in vivo.