Structure and Function of Cytochrome P450S in Insect Adaptation to Natural and Synthetic Toxins: Insights Gained from Molecular Modeling

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Over evolutionary time, insect herbivores have adapted to the presence of natural toxins and more recently to synthetic insecticides in or on the plants they consume. Biochemical analyses and molecular modeling of the cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450s) that metabolize these compounds have provided insight into the many variations affecting their catalytic activity. Phylogenetically distinct P450s may metabolize similar substrates, and phylogenetically similar P450s may metabolize different substrates; as well, some P450s process broad arrays of both phytochemicals and synthetic insecticides, while closely related P450s are restricted to a narrow range of phytochemicals. Mapped on the predicted three-dimensional structures of insect P450s developed from available mammalian P450 crystal structures, differences in multiple regions of the insect proteins reveal the evolutionary processes occurring as P450 genes have duplicated and diverged. Analyses of site-directed mutants in select lepidopteran and dipteran P450s demonstrate that slight changes in the catalytic site, the putative product release channel, and the proximal surface (interacting with electron transfer partners such as cytochrome P450 reductase and cytochrome b5) yield pronounced activity differences. Additionally, changes in the catalytic site and in the linker region preceding the proline-hinge influence P450 folding. With predicted structures available for many mammalian P450s involved in metabolism of xenobiotics, it is possible to record allelic variation relative to catalytically important regions in the overall P450 structure and to predict functionally critical differences. Together with information on the relative levels of allelic variant transcripts, comprehensive characterization of the mechanisms that modulate metabolism of natural and synthetic xenobiotics in insects can yield insights into plant-insect coevolution and into novel approaches for chemical pest management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1232-1245
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450s)
  • Detoxification
  • Insect-plant interactions
  • Insecticide metabolism
  • Molecular modeling
  • Phytochemical metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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