Measuring local genetic variation in permethrin-resistant head lice (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae) from Buenos Aires, Argentina

J Med Entomol. 2024 Jul 12;61(4):984-994. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjae048.


The cosmopolitan ectoparasite human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis (De Geer)(Phthiraptera:Pediculidae), affects mostly school-aged children, with infestations reported every year mainly due to louse resistance to pyrethroids. One of the main resistance mechanisms of pyrethroids is the target site insensitivity (kdr), which is caused by single-nucleotide point mutations (SNPs) located in the voltage-sensitive sodium channel gene. In this study, we analyzed individual head lice toxicologically via the description of their susceptibility profile to permethrin and genetically through the genotypification of their kdr alleles as well as nuclear microsatellite loci. Lice were collected from 4 schools in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The resistance ratios varied from 33.3% to 71.4%, with a frequency of the T917I kdr mutation of 87.31% and with 83.6% of the head lice being homozygous resistant to pyrethroids. Microsatellite data indicated that all the louse school populations had genotype proportions that deviated from Hardy-Weinberg expectations, with FIS > 0 reflecting a deficit of heterozygotes. Bottleneck analysis suggested that all louse school populations underwent a recent reduction in population sizes, while 3 of the 4 schools had gene flow values around 1, indicating ongoing gene flow among those schools. Our study suggests that school louse populations in the city of Buenos Aires may form a metapopulation, where each school represents a small population that undergoes extinction and recolonization processes under strong permethrin selection. This is the first multilevel analysis integrating toxicological, kdr-genotyping, and microsatellite data in human louse populations.

Keywords: kdr; Argentina; human head lice; insecticide resistance; population genetic structure.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Argentina
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Insecticide Resistance* / genetics
  • Insecticides* / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Pediculus* / drug effects
  • Pediculus* / genetics
  • Permethrin* / pharmacology


  • Permethrin
  • Insecticides