Effects of natural and synthetic neuroactive substances on the growth and feeding of cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni

Cheryl A. Heinz, Arthur R. Zangerl, May R. Berenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study we investigated the effects of two naturally occurring beta-carboline alkaloids and two synthetic tricyclic antidepressants on the growth and food consumption of fifth instar larvae of the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni Hubner (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). In artificial diets at high concentrations (3,000 ppm), harmane, amitriptyline, and imipramine reduce growth and feeding; harmane reduced feeding consistently at a lower concentration (200 ppm). In animals other than insects, beta-carboline alkaloids inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity and thus affect rates of disposition of serotonin and other monoamine neurotransmitters. Because brain serotonin levels are associated with variation in rates of carbohydrate and protein intake in insects, the effects of beta-carboline alkaloid ingestion on dietary self-selection behavior were examined. Choosing between diets lacking carbohydrate but containing protein and diets lacking protein but containing carbohydrate, larvae consumed a greater proportion of diet containing protein but lacking carbohydrate in the presence of harmane than in its absence. These results are consistent with beta-carboline alkaloid- mediated persistence of serotonin in the brain due to MAO inhibition. Alternatively, these results could reflect alkaloid-mediated peripheral inhibition of sucrose taste receptors influencing ingestive behaviors. That beta-carboline alkaloid ingestion is associated with changes in feeding behavior is consistent with a possible defensive role for these compounds in plant foliage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-451
Number of pages9
JournalEntomologia Experimentalis et Applicata
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


  • Trichoplusia ni
  • amitriptyline
  • beta-carboline alkaloid
  • feeding behavior
  • growth
  • harmaline
  • harmane
  • imipramine
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitor
  • tricyclics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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