Low doses of the organic insecticide spinosad trigger lysosomal defects, elevated ROS, lipid dysregulation, and neurodegeneration in flies

Elife. 2022 Feb 22:11:e73812. doi: 10.7554/eLife.73812.


Large-scale insecticide application is a primary weapon in the control of insect pests in agriculture. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that it is contributing to the global decline in population sizes of many beneficial insect species. Spinosad emerged as an organic alternative to synthetic insecticides and is considered less harmful to beneficial insects, yet its mode of action remains unclear. Using Drosophila, we show that low doses of spinosad antagonize its neuronal target, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit alpha 6 (nAChRα6), reducing the cholinergic response. We show that the nAChRα6 receptors are transported to lysosomes that become enlarged and increase in number upon low doses of spinosad treatment. Lysosomal dysfunction is associated with mitochondrial stress and elevated levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the central nervous system where nAChRα6 is broadly expressed. ROS disturb lipid storage in metabolic tissues in an nAChRα6-dependent manner. Spinosad toxicity is ameliorated with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine amide. Chronic exposure of adult virgin females to low doses of spinosad leads to mitochondrial defects, severe neurodegeneration, and blindness. These deleterious effects of low-dose exposures warrant rigorous investigation of its impacts on beneficial insects.

Keywords: D. melanogaster; antioxidant; lipid dysregulation; lysosomal dysfunction; neurodegeneration; neuroscience; oxidative stress; spinosad.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Drug Combinations
  • Insecticides / administration & dosage
  • Insecticides / pharmacology
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Lysosomes / drug effects*
  • Macrolides / administration & dosage
  • Macrolides / pharmacology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Insecticides
  • Macrolides
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • spinosad