Role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits in the mode of action of neonicotinoid, sulfoximine and spinosyn insecticides in Drosophila melanogaster

Trent Perry, Wei Chen, Razi Ghazali, Ying Ting Yang, Danielle Christesen, Felipe Martelli, Chris Lumb, Hang Ngoc Bao Luong, Judith Mitchell, Jessica K. Holien, Michael W. Parker, Thomas C. Sparks, Philip Batterham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Insecticides remain valuable tools for the control of insect pests that significantly impact human health and agriculture. A deeper understanding of insecticide targets is important in maintaining this control over pests. Our study systematically investigates the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) gene family, in order to identify the receptor subunits critical to the insect response to insecticides from three distinct chemical classes (neonicotinoids, spinosyns and sulfoximines). Applying the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology in D. melanogaster, we were able to generate and maintain homozygous mutants for eight nAChR subunit genes. A ninth gene (Dβ1) was investigated using somatic CRISPR in neural cells to overcome the low viability of the homozygous germline knockout mutant. These findings highlight the specificity of the spinosyn class insecticide, spinosad, to receptors containing the Dα6 subunit. By way of contrast, neonicotinoids are likely to target multiple receptor subtypes, beyond those receptor subunit combinations previously identified. Significant differences in the impacts of specific nAChR subunit deletions on the resistance level of flies to neonicotinoids imidacloprid and nitenpyram indicate that the receptor subtypes they target do not completely overlap. While an R81T mutation in β1 subunits has revealed residues co-ordinating binding of sulfoximines and neonicotinoids differ, the resistance profiles of a deletion of Dβ1 examined here provide new insights into the mode of action of sulfoxaflor (sulfoximine) and identify Dβ1 as a key component of nAChRs targeted by both these insecticide classes. A comparison of resistance phenotypes found in this study to resistance reported in insect pests reveals a strong conservation of subunit targets across many different insect species and that mutations have been identified in most of the receptor subunits that our findings would predict to have the potential to confer resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103547
Number of pages11
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Imidacloprid
  • Insecticide resistance
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • Nitenpyram
  • Spinosad
  • Sulfoxaflor

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