Acetylcholinesterase in honey bees (Apis mellifera) exposed to neonicotinoids, atrazine and glyphosate: laboratory and field experiments

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2013 Aug;20(8):5603-14. doi: 10.1007/s11356-013-1568-2. Epub 2013 Feb 27.


In Québec, as observed globally, abnormally high honey bee mortality rates have been reported recently. Several potential contributing factors have been identified, and exposure to pesticides is of increasing concern. In maize fields, foraging bees are exposed to residual concentrations of insecticides such as neonicotinoids used for seed coating. Highly toxic to bees, neonicotinoids are also reported to increase AChE activity in other invertebrates exposed to sub-lethal doses. The purpose of this study was therefore to test if the honey bee's AChE activity could be altered by neonicotinoid compounds and to explore possible effects of other common products used in maize fields: atrazine and glyphosate. One week prior to pollen shedding, beehives were placed near three different field types: certified organically grown maize, conventionally grown maize or non-cultivated. At the same time, caged bees were exposed to increasing sub-lethal doses of neonicotinoid insecticides (imidacloprid and clothianidin) and herbicides (atrazine and glyphosate) under controlled conditions. While increased AChE activity was found in all fields after 2 weeks of exposure, bees close to conventional maize crops showed values higher than those in both organic maize fields and non-cultivated areas. In caged bees, AChE activity increased in response to neonicotinoids, and a slight decrease was observed by glyphosate. These results are discussed with regard to AChE activity as a potential biomarker of exposure for neonicotinoids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Atrazine / toxicity*
  • Bees / drug effects*
  • Bees / enzymology
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycine / toxicity
  • Guanidines / analysis
  • Guanidines / toxicity*
  • Herbicides / toxicity
  • Imidazoles / analysis
  • Imidazoles / toxicity*
  • Insecticides / analysis
  • Insecticides / toxicity
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Nitro Compounds / analysis
  • Nitro Compounds / toxicity*
  • Pollen / chemistry
  • Quebec
  • Thiazoles / analysis
  • Thiazoles / toxicity*
  • Zea mays


  • Guanidines
  • Herbicides
  • Imidazoles
  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Nitro Compounds
  • Thiazoles
  • clothianidin
  • imidacloprid
  • glyphosate
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Atrazine
  • Glycine