Pyrethroid Insecticide and Milkweed Cardenolide Interactions On Detoxification Enzyme Activity and Expression in Monarch Caterpillars


Declines of the monarch butterfly population have prompted large-scale plantings of milkweed to restore the population. In North America, there are more than 73 species of milkweed to choose from for these nationwide plantings. However, it is unclear how different milkweed species affect monarch caterpillar physiology, particularly detoxification enzyme activity and gene expression, given the highly variable cardenolide composition across milkweed species. Here, we investigate the effects of a high cardenolide, tropical milkweed species and a low cardenolide, swamp milkweed species on pyrethroid sensitivity as well as detoxification enzyme activity and expression in monarch caterpillars. Caterpillars fed on each species through the fifth-instar stage and were topically treated with bifenthrin after reaching this final-instar stage. Esterase, glutathione S-transferase, and cytochrome P450 monooxygenase activities were quantified as well as the expression of selected esterase, glutathione S-transferase, ABC transporter, and cytochrome P450 monooxygenasetranscripts. There were no significant differences in survival 24 h after treatment with bifenthrin. However, bifenthrin significantly increased glutathione S-transferase activity in caterpillars feeding on tropical milkweed and significantly decreased esterase activity in caterpillars feeding on tropical and swamp milkweed. Significant differential expression of ABC transporter, glutathione S-transferase, and esterase genes was observed for caterpillars feeding on tropical and swamp milkweed and not receiving bifenthrin treatment. Furthermore, significant differential expression of glutathione S-transferase and esterase genes was observed for bifenthrin-treated and -untreated caterpillars feeding on tropical milkweed relative to swamp milkweed. These results suggest that feeding on different milkweed species can affect detoxification and development mechanisms with which monarch caterpillars rely on to cope with their environment.

Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology