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Nat Commun. 2013;4:1634. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2648.

Cholinergic pesticides cause mushroom body neuronal inactivation in honeybees.

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Division of Neuroscience, Medical Research Institute, Ninewells Medical School, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK.


Pesticides that target cholinergic neurotransmission are highly effective, but their use has been implicated in insect pollinator population decline. Honeybees are exposed to two widely used classes of cholinergic pesticide: neonicotinoids (nicotinic receptor agonists) and organophosphate miticides (acetylcholinesterase inhibitors). Although sublethal levels of neonicotinoids are known to disrupt honeybee learning and behaviour, the neurophysiological basis of these effects has not been shown. Here, using recordings from mushroom body Kenyon cells in acutely isolated honeybee brain, we show that the neonicotinoids imidacloprid and clothianidin, and the organophosphate miticide coumaphos oxon, cause a depolarization-block of neuronal firing and inhibit nicotinic responses. These effects are observed at concentrations that are encountered by foraging honeybees and within the hive, and are additive with combined application. Our findings demonstrate a neuronal mechanism that may account for the cognitive impairments caused by neonicotinoids, and predict that exposure to multiple pesticides that target cholinergic signalling will cause enhanced toxicity to pollinators.

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