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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e26796. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026796. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

Killing them with kindness? In-hive medications may inhibit xenobiotic efflux transporters and endanger honey bees.

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Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, United States of America.



Honey bees (Apis mellifera) have recently experienced higher than normal overwintering colony losses. Many factors have been evoked to explain the losses, among which are the presence of residues of pesticides and veterinary products in hives. Multiple residues are present at the same time, though most often in low concentrations so that no single product has yet been associated with losses. Involvement of a combination of residues to losses may however not be excluded. To understand the impact of an exposure to combined residues on honey bees, we propose a mechanism-based strategy, focusing here on Multi-Drug Resistance (MDR) transporters as mediators of those interactions.


Using whole-animal bioassays, we demonstrate through inhibition by verapamil that the widely used organophosphate and pyrethroid acaricides coumaphos and τ-fluvalinate, and three neonicotinoid insecticides: imidacloprid, acetamiprid and thiacloprid are substrates of one or more MDR transporters. Among the candidate inhibitors of honey bee MDR transporters is the in-hive antibiotic oxytetracycline. Bees prefed oxytetracycline were significantly sensitized to the acaricides coumaphos and τ-fluvalinate, suggesting that the antibiotic may interfere with the normal excretion or metabolism of these pesticides.


Many bee hives receive regular treatments of oxytetracycline and acaricides for prevention and treatment of disease and parasites. Our results suggest that seasonal co-application of these medicines to bee hives could increase the adverse effects of these and perhaps other pesticides. Our results also demonstrate the utility of a mechanism-based strategy. By identifying pesticides and apicultural medicines that are substrates and inhibitors of xenobiotic transporters we prioritize the testing of those chemical combinations most likely to result in adverse interactions.

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