Diverse actions and target-site selectivity of neonicotinoids: Structural insights

Kazuhiko Matsuda, Satoshi Kanaoka, Miki Akamatsu, David B. Sattelle

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are targets for human and veterinary medicines as well as insecticides. Subtypeselectivity among the diverse nAChR family members is important for medicines targeting particular disorders, and pest-insect selectivity is essential for the development of safer, environmentally acceptable insecticides. Neonicotinoid insecticides selectively targeting insect nAChRs have important applications in crop protection and animal health. Members of this class exhibit strikingly diverse actions on their nAChR targets. Here we review the chemistry and diverse actions of neonicotinoids on insect and mammalian nAChRs. Electrophysiological studies on native nAChRs and on wild-type and mutagenized recombinant nAChRs have shown that basic residues particular to loop D of insect nAChRs are likely to interact electrostatically with the nitro group of neonicotinoids. In 2008, the crystal structures were published showing neonicotinoids docking into the acetylcholine binding site of molluscan acetylcholine binding proteins with homology to the ligand binding domain (LBD) of nAChRs. The crystal structures showed that 1) glutamine in loop D, corresponding to the basic residues of insect nAChRs, hydrogen bonds with the NO2 group of imidacloprid and 2) neonicotinoid-unique stacking and CH-π bonds at the LBD. A neonicotinoid-resistant strain obtained by laboratory-screening has been found to result from target site mutations, and possible reasons for this are also suggested by the crystal structures. The prospects of designing neonicotinoids that are safe not only for mammals but also for beneficial insects such as honey bees (Apis mellifera) are discussed in terms of interactions with non-α nAChR subunits. Copyright © 2009 The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages9
    JournalMolecular pharmacology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


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