Multidrug transporters and organic anion transporting polypeptides protect insects against the toxic effects of cardenolides

Simon C. Groen, Erika R. LaPlante, Nicolas M. Alexandre, Anurag A. Agrawal, Susanne Dobler, Noah K. Whiteman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


In the struggle against dietary toxins, insects are known to employ target site insensitivity, metabolic detoxification, and transporters that shunt away toxins. Specialized insects across six taxonomic orders feeding on cardenolide-containing plants have convergently evolved target site insensitivity via specific amino acid substitutions in the Na/K-ATPase. Nonetheless, in vitro pharmacological experiments have suggested a role for multidrug transporters (Mdrs) and organic anion transporting polypeptides (Oatps), which may provide a basal level of protection in both specialized and non-adapted insects. Because the genes coding for these proteins are evolutionarily conserved and in vivo genetic evidence in support of this hypothesis is lacking, here we used wildtype and mutant Drosophila melanogaster (Drosophila) in capillary feeder (CAFE) assays to quantify toxicity of three chemically diverse, medically relevant cardenolides. We examined multiple components of fitness, including mortality, longevity, and LD50, and found that, while the three cardenolides each stimulated feeding (i.e., no deterrence to the toxin), all decreased lifespan, with the most apolar cardenolide having the lowest LD50 value. Flies showed a clear non-monotonic dose response and experienced high levels of toxicity at the cardenolide concentration found in plants. At this concentration, both Mdr and Oatp knockout mutant flies died more rapidly than wildtype flies, and the mutants also experienced more adverse neurological effects on high-cardenolide-level diets. Our study further establishes Drosophila as a model for the study of cardenolide pharmacology and solidifies support for the hypothesis that multidrug and organic anion transporters are key players in insect protection against dietary cardenolides.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-61
Number of pages11
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Cardenolide
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Herbivore
  • Multidrug transporter/P-glycoprotein
  • Na/K-ATPase
  • Organic anion transporting polypeptide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Multidrug transporters and organic anion transporting polypeptides protect insects against the toxic effects of cardenolides'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this