Wasp venom blocks central cholinergic synapses to induce transient paralysis in cockroach prey

J Neurobiol. 2003 Mar;54(4):628-37. doi: 10.1002/neu.10195.


The parasitoid wasp Ampulex compressa induces a set of unique behavioral effects upon stinging its prey, the cockroach. It stings into the first thoracic segment inducing 2 to 3 min of transient flaccid paralysis of the front legs. This facilitates a second sting in the cockroach's head that induces 30 min of excessive grooming followed by a 2 to 5-week long lethargic state. In the present study, we examine the immediate effect of the first sting, which is a transient paralysis of the front legs. Using radiolabeled wasps, we demonstrate that the wasp injects its venom directly into the cockroach's first thoracic ganglion. The artificial injection of milked venom into a thoracic ganglion abolishes spontaneous and evoked responses of the motoneurons associated with leg movements. To investigate the physiological mechanism of action of the venom, we injected venom into the last abdominal ganglion of the cockroach, which houses a well-characterized cholinergic synapse. Injected venom abolishes both sensory-evoked and agonist-evoked postsynaptic potentials recorded in the postsynaptic neuron for 2 to 3 min without affecting action potential propagation. Thus, the venom blocking effect has a postsynaptic component that follows the same time course as the transient paralysis induced by the thoracic sting. Finally, injection of a nicotinic antagonist in the front thoracic ganglion induces paralysis of the front legs. We conclude that the transient paralytic effect of the thoracic sting can be mainly accounted for by the presence of a venom active component that induces a postsynaptic block of central cholinergic synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Carbachol / pharmacology
  • Cholinergic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Cockroaches / drug effects*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / drug effects
  • Ganglia / drug effects
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Insect Bites and Stings
  • Paralysis / chemically induced
  • Periplaneta / drug effects
  • Periplaneta / physiology*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*
  • Time Factors
  • Tubocurarine / pharmacology
  • Wasp Venoms / metabolism
  • Wasp Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Wasps / chemistry


  • Cholinergic Agonists
  • Cholinergic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Wasp Venoms
  • Carbachol
  • Tubocurarine