Generic insect repellent detector from the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster

Zainulabeuddin Syed, Julien Pelletier, Eric Flounders, Rodrigo F. Chitolina, Walter S. Leal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Insect repellents are prophylactic tools against a number of vector-borne diseases. There is growing demand for repellents outperforming DEET in cost and safety, but with the current technologies R&D of a new product takes almost 10 years, with a prohibitive cost of $30 million dollar in part due to the demand for large-scale synthesis of thousands of test compounds of which only 1 may reach the market. R&D could be expedited and cost dramatically reduced with a molecular/physiological target to streamline putative repellents for final efficacy and toxicological tests. Methodology: Using olfactory-based choice assay we show here that the fruit fly is repelled by not only DEET, but also IR3535 and picaridin thus suggesting they might have "generic repellent detector(s)," which may be of practical applications in new repellent screenings. We performed single unit recordings from all olfactory sensilla in the antennae and maxillary palps. Although the ab3A neuron in the wild type flies responded to picaridin, it was unresponsive to DEET and IR3535. By contrast, a neuron housed in the palp basiconic sensilla pb1 responded to DEET, IR3535, and picaridin, with apparent sensitivity higher than that of the DEET detectors in the mosquitoes Culex quinquefasciatus and Aedes aegypti. DmOr42a was transplanted from pb1 to the "empty neuron" and showed to be sensitive to the three insect repellents. Conclusions: For the first time we have demonstrated that the fruit fly avoids not only DEET but also IR3535 and picaridin, and identified an olfactory receptor neuron (ORN), which is sensitive to these three major insect repellents. We have also identified the insect repellent-sensitive receptor, DmOr42a. This generic detector fulfils the requirements for a simplified bioassay for early screening of test insect repellents.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17705
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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