Commonly used insect repellents hide human odors from Anopheles mosquitoes

Ali Afify, Joshua F. Betz, Olena Riabinina, Christopher J. Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mode of action for most mosquito repellents is unknown. This is primarily due to the difficulty in monitoring how the mosquito olfactory system responds to repellent odors. Here, we used the Q-system of binary expression to enable activity-dependent Ca2+ imaging in olfactory neurons of the African malaria mosquito Anopheles coluzzii. This system allows neuronal responses to common insect repellents to be directly visualized in living mosquitoes from all olfactory organs including the antenna. The synthetic repellents DEET and IR3535 did not activate Odorant Receptor Co-Receptor (Orco) expressing olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) at any concentration, while picaridin weakly activated ORNs only at high concentrations. In contrast, natural repellents (i.e. lemongrass oil and eugenol) strongly activated small numbers of ORNs in the mosquito antennae at low concentrations. We determined that DEET, IR3535, and picaridin decrease the response of Orco expressing ORNs when these repellents are physically mixed with activating human-derived odorants. We present evidence that synthetic repellents may primarily exert their olfactory mode of action by decreasing the amount of activating ligand reaching ORNs. These results suggest that synthetic repellents disruptively change the chemical profile of host scent signatures on the skin surface rendering humans invisible to mosquitoes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jan 25 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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