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Neonicotinoid clothianidin adversely affects insect immunity and promotes replication of a viral pathogen in honey bees



Large-scale losses of honey bee colonies represent a poorly understood problem of global importance. Both biotic and abiotic factors are involved in this phenomenon that is often associated with high loads of parasites and pathogens. A stronger impact of pathogens in honey bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides has been reported, but the causal link between insecticide exposure and the possible immune alteration of honey bees remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin negatively modulates NF-κB immune signaling in insects and adversely affects honey bee antiviral defenses controlled by this transcription factor. We have identified in insects a negative modulator of NF-κB activation, which is a leucine-rich repeat protein. Exposure to clothianidin, by enhancing the transcription of the gene encoding this inhibitor, reduces immune defenses and promotes the replication of the deformed wing virus in honey bees bearing covert infections. This honey bee immunosuppression is similarly induced by a different neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, but not by the organophosphate chlorpyriphos, which does not affect NF-κB signaling. The occurrence at sublethal doses of this insecticide-induced viral proliferation suggests that the studied neonicotinoids might have a negative effect at the field
level. Our experiments uncover a further level of regulation of the immune response in insects and set the stage for studies on neural modulation of immunity in animals. Furthermore, this study has implications for the conservation of bees, as it will contribute to the definition of more appropriate guidelines for testing chronic or sublethal effects of pesticides used in agriculture.


Gennaro Di Prisco, Valeria Cavaliere, Desiderato Annoscia, Paola Varricchio, Emilio Caprio, Francesco Nazzi, Giuseppe Gargiulo, and Francesco Pennacchio

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 21


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Assessment of the environmental exposure of honeybees to particulate matter containing neonicotinoid insecticides coming from corn coated seeds (3)


Since seed coating with neonicotinoid insecticides was introduced in the late 1990s, European beekeepers have reported severe colony losses in the period of corn sowing (spring). As a consequence, seed-coating neonicotinoid insecticides that are used worldwide on corn crops have been blamed for honeybee decline. In view of the currently increasing crop production, and also of corn as a renewable energy source, the correct use of these insecticides within sustainable agriculture is a cause of concern. In this paper, a probable--but so far underestimated--route of environmental exposure of honeybees to and intoxication with neonicotinoid insecticides, namely, the atmospheric emission of particulate matter containing the insecticide by drilling machines, has been quantitatively studied. Using optimized analytical procedures, quantitative measurements of both the emitted particulate and the consequent direct contamination of single bees approaching the drilling machine during the foraging activity have been determined. Experimental results show that the environmental release of particles containing neonicotinoids can produce high exposure levels for bees, with lethal effects compatible with colony losses phenomena observed by beekeepers.

Tapparo A, Marton D, Giorio C, Zanella A, Soldà L, Marzaro M, Vivan L, Girolami V.

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Mar 6;46(5):2592-9. doi: 10.1021/es2035152. Epub 2012 Feb 17.


RFID tracking of sublethal effects of two neonicotinoid insecticides on the foraging behavior of Apis mellifera. (2)


The development of insecticides requires valid risk assessment procedures to avoid causing harm to beneficial insects and especially to pollinators such as the honeybee Apis mellifera. In addition to testing according to current guidelines designed to detect bee mortality, tests are needed to determine possible sublethal effects interfering with the animal's vitality and behavioral performance. Several methods have been used to detect sublethal effects of different insecticides under laboratory conditions using olfactory conditioning. Furthermore, studies have been conducted on the influence insecticides have on foraging activity and homing ability which require time-consuming visual observation. We tested an experimental design using the radiofrequency identification (RFID) method to monitor the influence of sublethal doses of insecticides on individual honeybee foragers on an automated basis. With electronic readers positioned at the hive entrance and at an artificial food source, we obtained quantifiable data on honeybee foraging behavior. This enabled us to efficiently retrieve detailed information on flight parameters. We compared several groups of bees, fed simultaneously with different dosages of a tested substance. With this experimental approach we monitored the acute effects of sublethal doses of the neonicotinoids imidacloprid (0.15-6 ng/bee) and clothianidin (0.05-2 ng/bee) under field-like circumstances. At field-relevant doses for nectar and pollen no adverse effects were observed for either substance. Both substances led to a significant reduction of foraging activity and to longer foraging flights at doses of ≥0.5 ng/bee (clothianidin) and ≥1.5 ng/bee (imidacloprid) during the first three hours after treatment. This study demonstrates that the RFID-method is an effective way to record short-term alterations in foraging activity after insecticides have been administered once, orally, to individual bees. We contribute further information on the understanding of how honeybees are affected by sublethal doses of insecticides.

Schneider CW, Tautz J, Grünewald B, Fuchs S. PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30023. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030023. Epub 2012 Jan 11.

Translocation of neonicotinoid insecticides from coated seeds to seedling guttation drops: a novel way of intoxication for bees

The death of honey bees, Apis mellifera L., and the consequent colony collapse disorder causes major losses in agriculture and plant pollination worldwide. The phenomenon showed increasing rates in the past years, although its causes are still awaiting a clear answer. Although neonicotinoid systemic insecticides used for seed coating of agricultural crops were suspected as possible reason, studies so far have not shown the existence of unquestionable sources capable of delivering directly intoxicating doses in the fields. Guttation is a natural plant phenomenon causing the excretion of xylem fluid at leaf margins. Here, we show that leaf guttation drops of all the corn plants germinated from neonicotinoid-coated seeds contained amounts of insecticide constantly higher than 10 mg/l, with maxima up to 100 mg/l for thiamethoxam and clothianidin, and up to 200 mg/l for imidacloprid. The concentration of neonicotinoids in guttation drops can be near those of active ingredients commonly applied in field sprays for pest control, or even higher. When bees consume guttation drops, collected from plants grown from neonicotinoid-coated seeds, they encounter death within few minutes.


Dipartimento di Agronomia Ambientale e Produzioni Vegetali, Entomologia, Università di Padova, Viale dell'Università 16, 35020 Legnaro, Padova, Italy. vincenzo.girolami@unipd.it

J Econ Entomol. 2009 Oct;102(5):1808-15.

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