Journal of chemical ecology

Are insect-synthesized retronecine esters (creatonotines) the precursors of the male courtship pheromone in the arctiid moth Estigmene acrea?

PMID 14682536


The pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) profiles were determined for adults of the polyphagous arctiid Estigmene acrea, which as larvae had fed on artificial diet supplemented with Crotalaria-pumila powder with known concentrations of PAs. The larvae always had a free choice between alkaloid-containing and plain diets. The alkaloid profiles of adults revealed a striking sexual dimorphism. Both sexes contained macrocyclic PAs of the monocrotaline type sequestered from the diet and, in addition, a substantial proportion of supinidine and retronecine esters synthesized by the insects from necine bases derived from the dietary alkaloids and necic acids of insect origin. These insect alkaloids accounted for 35% and 55% of total PAs in males and females, respectively. The difference was that in females the retronecine esters (creatonotines) made up 58 microg (43% of total PAs), while males contained a fivefold lower proportion, 12 microg (13%). Four of the ten male individuals analyzed were found devoid of creatonotines. Based on the experimental data in combination with evidence from the literature, it is suggested that the creatonotines are direct pheromone precursors in E. acrea. It is hypothesized that this may represent a general mechanism of hydroxydanaidal formation from diverse macrocyclic PAs in arctiids.

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Retronecine, analytical standard