Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mutation of a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor β subunit is associated with resistance to neonicotinoid insecticides in the aphid Myzus persicae

Chris Bass1*, Alin M Puinean1, Melanie Andrews2, Penny Cutler3, Miriam Daniels3, Jan Elias2, Verity Laura Paul2, Andrew J Crossthwaite3, Ian Denholm1, Linda M Field1, Stephen P Foster1, Rob Lind3, Martin S Williamson1 and Russell Slater2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Sustainable Pest and Disease Management, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, AL5 2JQ, UK

2 Syngenta Crop Protection, Werk Stein, Schaffhauserstrasse, Stein, CH4332, Switzerland

3 Syngenta Crop Protection, Jealotts Hill Intl. Research Centre, Bracknell, RG42 6EY, UK

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:51  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-51

Published: 31 May 2011



Myzus persicae is a globally important aphid pest with a history of developing resistance to insecticides. Unusually, neonicotinoids have remained highly effective as control agents despite nearly two decades of steadily increasing use. In this study, a clone of M. persicae collected from southern France was found, for the first time, to exhibit sufficiently strong resistance to result in loss of the field effectiveness of neonicotinoids.


Bioassays, metabolism and gene expression studies implied the presence of two resistance mechanisms in the resistant clone, one based on enhanced detoxification by cytochrome P450 monooxygenases, and another unaffected by a synergist that inhibits detoxifying enzymes. Binding of radiolabeled imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) to whole body membrane preparations showed that the high affinity [3H]-imidacloprid binding site present in susceptible M. persicae is lost in the resistant clone and the remaining lower affinity site is altered compared to susceptible clones. This confers a significant overall reduction in binding affinity to the neonicotinoid target: the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR). Comparison of the nucleotide sequence of six nAChR subunit (Mpα1-5 and Mpβ1) genes from resistant and susceptible aphid clones revealed a single point mutation in the loop D region of the nAChR β1 subunit of the resistant clone, causing an arginine to threonine substitution (R81T).


Previous studies have shown that the amino acid at this position within loop D is a key determinant of neonicotinoid binding to nAChRs and this amino acid change confers a vertebrate-like character to the insect nAChR receptor and results in reduced sensitivity to neonicotinoids. The discovery of the mutation at this position and its association with the reduced affinity of the nAChR for imidacloprid is the first example of field-evolved target-site resistance to neonicotinoid insecticides and also provides further validation of exisiting models of neonicotinoid binding and selectivity for insect nAChRs.