Improving Mitochondrial Function Protects Bumblebees from Neonicotinoid Pesticides

PLoS One. 2016 Nov 15;11(11):e0166531. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166531. eCollection 2016.


Global pollination is threatened by declining insect pollinator populations that may be linked to neonicotinoid pesticide use. Neonicotinoids over stimulate neurons and depolarize their mitochondria, producing immobility and death. However, mitochondrial function can be improved by near infrared light absorbed by cytochrome c oxidase in mitochondrial respiration. In flies, daily exposure to 670nm light throughout life increases average lifespan and aged mobility, and reduces systemic inflammation. Here we treat bumble bees with Imidacloprid a common neonicotinoid. This undermined ATP and rapidly induced immobility and reduced visual function and survival. Bees exposed to insecticide and daily to 670nm light showed corrected ATP levels and significantly improved mobility allowing them to feed. Physiological recordings from eyes revealed that light exposure corrected deficits induced by the pesticide. Overall, death rates in bees exposed to insecticide but also given 670nm light were indistinguishable from controls. When Imidacloprid and light exposure were withdrawn, survival was maintained. Bees and insects generally cannot see deep red light so it does not disturb their behaviour. Hence, we show that deep red light exposure that improves mitochondrial function, reverses the sensory and motor deficits induced by Imidacloprid. These results may have important implications as light delivery is economic and can be placed in hives/colonies.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / agonists
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects
  • Bees / physiology
  • Bees / radiation effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / radiation effects
  • Flowers / physiology
  • Imidazoles / toxicity*
  • Infrared Rays*
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / radiation effects*
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Motor Activity / radiation effects
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / radiation effects
  • Nitro Compounds / toxicity*
  • Pollination / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / drug effects
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / radiation effects*


  • Imidazoles
  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Nitro Compounds
  • imidacloprid
  • Adenosine Triphosphate

Grant support

This research was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK, BB/N000250/1.