Acute efects of the imidacloprid metabolite desnitro‑imidacloprid on human nACh receptors relevant for neuronal signaling

Dominik Loser, Karin Grillberger, Maria G. Hinojosa, Jonathan Blum, Yves Haufe, Timm Danker, Ylva Johansson, Clemens Möller, Annette Nicke, Susanne Hougaard Bennekou, Iain Gardner, Caroline Bauch, Paul Walker, Anna Forsby, Gerhard F. Ecker, Udo Kraushaar, Marcel Leist*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Several neonicotinoids have recently been shown to activate the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) on human neurons. Moreover, imidacloprid (IMI) and other members of this pesticide family form a set of diverse metabolites within crops. Among these, desnitro-imidacloprid (DN-IMI) is of special toxicological interest, as there is evidence (i) for human dietary exposure to this metabolite, (ii) and that DN-IMI is a strong trigger of mammalian nicotinic responses. We set out here to quantify responses of human nAChRs to DN-IMI and an alternative metabolite, IMI-olefin. To evaluate toxicological hazards, these data were then compared to those of IMI and nicotine. Ca2+-imaging experiments on human neurons showed that DN-IMI exhibits an agonistic effect on nAChRs at sub-micromolar concentrations (equipotent with nicotine) while IMI-olefin activated the receptors less potently (in a similar range as IMI). Direct experimental data on the interaction with defined receptor subtypes were obtained by heterologous expression of various human nAChR subtypes in Xenopus laevis oocytes and measurement of the transmembrane currents evoked by exposure to putative ligands. DN-IMI acted on the physiologically important human nAChR subtypes α7, α3β4, and α4β2 (high-sensitivity variant) with similar potency as nicotine. IMI and IMI-olefin were confirmed as nAChR agonists, although with 2–3 orders of magnitude lower potency. Molecular docking studies, using receptor models for the α7 and α4β2 nAChR subtypes supported an activity of DN-IMI similar to that of nicotine. In summary, these data suggest that DN-IMI functionally affects human neurons similar to the well-established neurotoxicant nicotine by triggering α7 and several non-α7 nAChRs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives of Toxicology
Pages (from-to)3695–3716
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Live-cell calcium imaging
  • Pesticide metabolism
  • Nicotine
  • Developmental neurotoxicity
  • Molecular docking
  • Oocyte recording


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