Purdue University Graduate School
Lide Bi 2023.4.24.pdf (1.76 MB)

Discovering Natural Product Chemistries for Vector Control

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posted on 2023-04-25, 02:39 authored by Lide BiLide Bi


Vector-borne diseases (VBDs) represent a significant health burden worldwide, threatening approximately 80% of the global population. Insecticide-based vector control is the most effective method to manage many VBDs, but its efficacy has been declining due to high levels of resistance in vector populations to the main insecticide classes which operate via limited modes of action. Therefore, the discovery of new chemistries from non-conventional chemical classes and with novel modes of action is a priority for the control of vectors and VBDs. Natural products (NPs) are diverse in chemical structures and, potentially, modes of action. They have been used as insecticides for many decades and have inspired the development of multiple synthetic insecticides, suggesting the discovery of novel NPs could lead to the development of highly effective insecticides. 

In this thesis, I report two studies with a main goal to identify novel mosquito-active insecticide leads that operate via modes of action distinct from existing insecticides. First, I tested the hypothesis that new mosquito-active insecticide leads with novel chemical structures, possibly operating via novel modes of action, can be identified by high-content larval phenotypic screening against a natural product collection and using novel phenotypic endpoints in addition to mortality endpoints. Here, I performed a high-content larval phenotypic screen using first instar (L1) larvae of Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus, 1762) against 3,680 compounds from the AnalytiCon MEGx Natural Product Libraries and a screening platform developed by Murgia et al., (2022). Compounds were screened in a 384-well plate format using the Perkin Elmer Opera Phenix and larvae were scored for lethal and novel phenotypic endpoints. Screening revealed five chemistries that caused larval mortality, including rotenone and a new NP chemistry, NP-4. The identification of rotenone confirmed the ability of the screen to detect mosquito-active NP chemistries. NP-4 caused high levels of larval mortality in the screen, and toxicity was confirmed in a subsequent concentration-response assay against third instar (L3) larvae of Ae. aegypti. 140 chemistries that caused atypical larval phenotypes, including cuticular pigmentation and morphometric changes relative to negative controls, were also identified by the screen. Some of these chemistries may operate by disruption of pathways regulating melanization, growth and development, and novel targets in the insect nervous systems, thus representing potential leads for further insecticide toxicity and mode of action studies. To facilitate quantitative analyses of atypical phenotypes, an attempt was made to assess the morphometrics of the thorax in larvae exposed to test chemistry, relative to control larvae. However, assessment was limited by the number of larvae images of suitable quality for measurements. 

In the second study, I tested the hypothesis that metergoline (Murgia et al., 2022) and NP-4 (this study), two chemistries identified by the HTP phenotypic screen described in this project, operate via disruption of targets in the insect nervous systems that are distinct from the current insecticidal modes of products used in mosquito control programs. Specifically, I explored the hypothesis that metergoline operates via one or more insect orthologs of the mammalian G protein-coupled serotonin and dopamine receptors. An electrophysiology study was performed using the suction electrode technique and ganglia of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica (Linnaeus, 1767). To facilitate the investigation of metergoline agonism/antagonism and disruption of invertebrate GPCR signaling, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT; serotonin) was included as a chemical probe. Electrophysiological recordings showed 5-HT (10µM and 1mM) and metergoline (10µM) caused no significant neurological activity at the tested concentrations in comparison to the saline control. However, a consistent neuro-inhibitory trend was observed, suggesting possible agonism of a 5-HT1-like receptor ortholog and antagonism of a putative 5-HT7-like receptor ortholog in the cockroach, respectively.  NP-4 caused significant neuro-inhibition at the tested concentration of 20µM, in comparison to the negative saline control. Given the demonstration of rapid contact toxicity to Ae. aegypti larvae and neurological inhibition in B. germanica, we propose NP-4 may act at one or more conserved targets in the insect nervous systems, which remain to be elucidated. 

The significance of the present study is three-fold. First, this study reports the first high-content phenotypic screen of mosquito larvae against a NP collection and identification of 145 mosquito-active chemistries associated with lethal and phenotypic endpoints. These data confirm that the screening platform provided an innovative and effective system to rapidly identify mosquito-active small molecules with potential novel modes of action. Second, metergoline and NP-4 represent potential novel chemical leads for the development of new insecticides that can be incorporated into vector control programs targeting insecticide-resistant populations. Lastly, the study describes the first electrophysiology study of 5-HT, metergoline, and NP-4 via the suction electrode technique in an insect system and contributes new knowledge to the study of the insect serotonergic system, which represents an expanding area of vector biology research given its roles in feeding regulation.  

Future studies resulting from this thesis might include: (1) development of a set of morphometric criteria for quantitative analyses of atypical larval phenotypes, (2) incorporation of new phenotypic endpoints to expand the capacity of the screen to identify novel mode of action chemistries for insecticide discovery, and (3) identification of chemistry candidates suitable for further development from the 140 chemistries associated with atypical larval phenotypes in the primary screen using chemo-informatic and toxicological studies. In addition, studies using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), cell-based expression systems, mutant/insecticide resistant strains, and patch clamp electrophysiology could be pursued to further investigate the molecular mode of action of metergoline and NP-4, and potential for vector control.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Entomology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Catherine A. Hill

Additional Committee Member 2

Jennifer L. Freeman

Additional Committee Member 3

Ameya D. Gondhalekar

Additional Committee Member 4

Michael E. Scharf

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