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Gene. 2006 Jan 17;366(1):152-60. Epub 2005 Nov 28.

Molecular cloning and functional characterization of the dopamine transporter from Eloria noyesi, a caterpillar pest of cocaine-rich coca plants.

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Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine and Public Health, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, United States.


Cocaine is produced by coca plants as a chemical defense to deter feeding by insects. It has been shown that cocaine sprayed on tomato leaves reduces insect feeding, causes abnormal behaviors at low doses and kills feeding insects at doses equivalent to that in coca leaves [Nathanson, J.A., Hunnicutt, E.J., Kantham, L., Scavone, C., 1993. Cocaine as a naturally occurring insecticide. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 90, 9645-9648.]. Most insects avoid coca leaves except the larvae of Eloria noyesi, a caterpillar pest of coca plants, which feeds preferentially on coca leaves. In the current study, we cloned and characterized the dopamine transporters (DATs) from caterpillars of E. noyesi (enDAT) and the silkworm, Bombyx mori (B. mori, bmDAT). The two insect DATs shared 88% amino acid sequence homology and functional similarity. Although enDAT and bmDAT showed the highest affinity for dopamine among endogenous amines, they were more sensitive to mammalian NET-selective inhibitors than to mammalian DAT-selective inhibitors. Despite a high cocaine content in the food source for E. noyesi, cocaine sensitivity of enDAT was similar to that of bmDAT, suggesting that mechanisms other than DAT insensitivity to cocaine, such as cocaine sequestration, might be responsible for cocaine resistance in this species. Given the significant differences in pharmacological profile from mammalian DATs, invertebrate DATs provide excellent tools for identifying regions and residues in the transporters that contribute to high-affinity binding of psychostimulants and antidepressants.

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