Wasp venom injected into the prey's brain modulates thoracic identified monoaminergic neurons

J Neurobiol. 2006 Feb 5;66(2):155-68. doi: 10.1002/neu.20203.


The wasp Ampulex compressa injects a cocktail of neurotoxins into the brain of its cockroach prey to induce an enduring change in the execution of locomotory behaviors. Our hypothesis is that the venom injected into the brain indirectly alters the activity of monoaminergic neurons, thus changing the levels of monoamines that tune the central synapses of locomotory circuits. The purpose of the present investigation was to establish whether the venom alters the descending control, from the brain, of octopaminergic neurons in the thorax. This question was approached by recording the activity of specific identified octopaminergic neurons after removing the input from the brain or after a wasp sting into the brain. We show that the activity of these neurons is altered in stung and "brainless" animals. The spontaneous firing rate of these neurons in stung and brainless animals is approximately 20% that in control animals. Furthermore, we show that an identified octopamine neuron responds more weakly both to sensory stimuli and to direct injection of current in all treated groups. The alteration in the activity of octopamine neurons is likely to be part of the mechanism by which the wasp induces a change in the behavioral state of its prey and also affects its metabolism by reducing the potent glycolytic activator fructose 2,6-bisphosphate in leg muscle. To our knowledge, this is the first direct evidence of a change in electrical activity of specific monoaminergic neurons that can be so closely associated with a venom-induced change in behavioral state of a prey animal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axotomy
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Insect Bites and Stings / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Octopamine / metabolism*
  • Periplaneta / drug effects
  • Thorax / innervation*
  • Wasp Venoms / toxicity*
  • Wasps


  • Wasp Venoms
  • Octopamine