Acute effects of the imidacloprid metabolite desnitro-imidacloprid on human nACh receptors relevant for neuronal signaling

Archives of Toxicology
Loser Dominik, Grillberger Karin, Hinojosa Maria G., Blum Jonathan, Hauser Karin, Danker Timm, Johansson Ylva, Möller Clemens, Nicke Annette, Bennekou Suzanne H., Gardner Iain, Bauch Caroline, Walker Paul, Forsby Anna, Ecker Gerhard F, Kraushaar Udo, Leist Marcel
DOI: 10.1007/s00204-021-03168-z
PMID: 34628512
Keyword: Developmental neurotoxicity; Live-cell calcium imaging; Molecular docking; Nicotine; Oocyte recording; Pesticide metabolism.


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.