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Scientific reports

Plant phenolics are detoxified by prophenoloxidase in the insect gut.


PMID 26592948

Abstract

Plant phenolics are a group of important secondary metabolites that are toxic to many animals and insects if ingested at high concentrations. Because most insects consume plant phenolics daily, they have likely evolved the capacity to detoxify these compounds. Here, we used Drosophila melanogaster, Bombyx mori and Helicoverpa armigera as models to study the metabolism of plant phenolics by prophenoloxidases. We found that insect foreguts release prophenoloxidases into the lumen, and that the survival of prophenoloxidase-deletion mutants was impaired when fed several plant phenolics and tea extracts. Using l-DOPA as a model substrate, biochemical assays in large Lepidopteran insects demonstrated that low levels of l-DOPA are rapidly metabolized into intermediates by phenoloxidases. Feeding with excess l-DOPA showed that the metabolic intermediate 5,6-dihydroxyindole reached the hindgut either by passing directly through the midgut, or by transport through the hemolymph. In the hindgut, 5,6-dihydroxyindole was further oxidized by prophenoloxidases. Intermediates exerted no toxicity in the hemocoel or midgut. These results show that plant phenolics are not toxic to insects unless prophenoloxidase genes are lost or the levels of phenolics exceed the catalytic activity of the gut prophenoloxidases.

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