Neuroactive insecticides: targets, selectivity, resistance, and secondary effects

Annu Rev Entomol. 2013:58:99-117. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-120811-153645.


Neuroactive insecticides are the principal means of protecting crops, people, livestock, and pets from pest insect attack and disease transmission. Currently, the four major nerve targets are acetylcholinesterase for organophosphates and methylcarbamates, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor for neonicotinoids, the γ-aminobutyric acid receptor/chloride channel for polychlorocyclohexanes and fiproles, and the voltage-gated sodium channel for pyrethroids and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. Species selectivity and acquired resistance are attributable in part to structural differences in binding subsites, receptor subunit interfaces, or transmembrane regions. Additional targets are sites in the sodium channel (indoxacarb and metaflumizone), the glutamate-gated chloride channel (avermectins), the octopamine receptor (amitraz metabolite), and the calcium-activated calcium channel (diamides). Secondary toxic effects in mammals from off-target serine hydrolase inhibition include organophosphate-induced delayed neuropathy and disruption of the cannabinoid system. Possible associations between pesticides and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases are proposed but not established based on epidemiological observations and mechanistic considerations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / chemically induced
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Insecta / drug effects*
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Parkinson Disease / etiology
  • Rats
  • Species Specificity


  • Insecticides