An esterase cDNA was isolated from the cabbage armyworm Mamestra brassicae antennae by PCR strategy. The full-length cDNA, designated as Mbra-EST, contains a 1638 bp open reading frame encoding a predicted protein of 546 amino acids. This predicted protein presents the structural characteristics of known insect carboxyl-esterases, in particular the Ser-His-Glu catalytic triad. The expression pattern of the gene was studied by RT-PCR, Northern-blot and in situ hybridization. The ribosomal protein rpL8 gene from M. brassicae was also cloned to obtain a normalized tool for the comparative gene expression studies. Mbra-EST transcripts are specifically expressed in the antennae of males and females and in the proboscis of males. In antennae of both sexes, expression is restricted to the olfactory sensilla trichodea, suggesting a role in degradation of odorant acetate compounds, such as pheromones as well as plant volatile acetate components.