Insecticides directed against acetylcholinesterase (AChE) are facing increased resistance among target species as well as increasing concerns for human toxicity. The result has been a resurgence of disease vectors, insects destructive to agriculture, and residential pests. We previously reported a free cysteine (Cys) residue at the entrance to the AChE active site in some insects but not higher vertebrates. We also reported Cys-targeting methanethiosulfonate molecules (AMTSn), which, under conditions that spared human AChE, caused total irreversible inhibition of aphid AChE, 95% inhibition of AChE from the malaria vector mosquito (Anopheles gambia), and >80% inhibition of activity from the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and northern house mosquito (Culex pipiens). We now find the same compounds inhibit AChE from cockroaches (Blattella germanica and Periplaneta americana), the flour beetle (Tribolium confusum), the multi-colored Asian ladybird beetle (Harmonia axyridis), the bed bug (Cimex lectularius), and a wasp (Vespula maculifrons), with IC(50) values of approximately 1-11muM. Our results support further study of Cys-targeting inhibitors as conceptually novel insecticides that may be free of resistance in a range of insect pests and disease vectors and, compared with current compounds, should demonstrate much lower toxicity to mammals, birds, and fish.
Insect pests are responsible for human suffering and financial losses worldwide. New and environmentally safe insecticides are urgently needed to cope with these serious problems. Resistance to current insecticides has resulted in a resurgence of insect pests, and growing concerns about insecticide toxicity to humans discourage the use of insecticides for pest control. The small market for insecticides has hampered insecticide development; however, advances in genomics and structural genomics offer new opportunities to develop insecticides that are less dependent on the insecticide market. This review summarizes the literature data that support the hypothesis that an insect-specific cysteine residue located at the opening of the acetylcholinesterase active site is a promising target site for developing new insecticides with reduced off-target toxicity and low propensity for insect resistance. These data are used to discuss the differences between targeting the insect-specific cysteine residue and targeting the ubiquitous catalytic serine residue of acetylcholinesterase from the perspective of reducing off-target toxicity and insect resistance. Also discussed is the prospect of developing cysteine-targeting anticholinesterases as effective and environmentally safe insecticides for control of disease vectors, crop damage, and residential insect pests within the financial confines of the present insecticide market.
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