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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2007 Jul;147(3):711-30. Epub 2006 Aug 30.

Cuticular hydrocarbons of triatomines.

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  • 1Instituto de Investigaciones Bioquímicas de La Plata, Facultad de Ciencias Médicas 1 piso, calles 60 y 120, La Plata, 1900, Argentina.


Triatomine insects (Hemiptera) are the vectors of Chagas disease. Their cuticular surface is covered by a thin layer of lipids, mainly hydrocarbons, wax esters, fatty alcohols, and free or esterified fatty acids. These lipids play a major role in preventing a lethal desiccation, altering the absorption of chemicals and microorganism penetration, they also participate in chemical communication events. Lipid components are biosynthetically related, the synthesis of long chain and very long chain fatty acids was first shown in the integument of Triatoma infestans through the concerted action of fatty acid synthases (FAS's) and fatty acyl-CoA elongases. A final decarboxylation step produces the corresponding hydrocarbon. Capillary gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry analyses showed that cuticular hydrocarbons of Triatominae comprise saturated straight and methyl-branched chains, from 18 to more than 43 carbon atoms. Odd-chain hydrocarbons, mostly from 27 to 33 carbons, are the major straight chains. Different isomers of mono, di, tri, and tetramethylcomponents, mostly from 29 to 39 atoms in the carbon skeleton, account for the major methyl-branched hydrocarbons. The presence, absence, and relative quantities of these hydrocarbons represent characters for their chemical phenotype, and are useful for differentiating genera, species and populations. In this review, we will discuss the metabolic pathways involved in hydrocarbon formation, and their structure, together with their role in insect survival. We will also review the utility of cuticular hydrocarbon fingerprints in chemotaxonomy.

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