Genomic and proteomic studies on the effects of the insect growth regulator diflubenzuron in the model beetle species Tribolium castaneum

Hans Merzendorfer, Hee Shin Kim, Sujata S. Chaudhari, Meera Kumari, Charles A. Specht, Stephen Butcher, Susan J. Brown, J. Robert Manak, Richard W. Beeman, Karl J. Kramer, Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Several benzoylphenyl urea-derived insecticides such as diflubenzuron (DFB, Dimilin ®) are in wide use to control various insect pests. Although this class of compounds is known to disrupt molting and to affect chitin content, their precise mode of action is still not understood. To gain a broader insight into the mechanism underlying the insecticidal effects of benzoylphenyl urea compounds, we conducted a comprehensive study with the model beetle species and stored product pest Tribolium castaneum (red flour beetle) utilizing genomic and proteomic approaches. DFB was added to a wheat flour-based diet at various concentrations and fed to larvae and adults. We observed abortive molting, hatching defects and reduced chitin amounts in the larval cuticle, the peritrophic matrix and eggs. Electron microscopic examination of the larval cuticle revealed major structural changes and a loss of lamellate structure of the procuticle. We used a genomic tiling array for determining relative expression levels of about 11,000 genes predicted by the GLEAN algorithm. About 6% of all predicted genes were more than 2-fold up- or down-regulated in response to DFB treatment. Genes encoding enzymes involved in chitin metabolism were unexpectedly unaffected, but many genes encoding cuticle proteins were affected. In addition, several genes presumably involved in detoxification pathways were up-regulated. Comparative 2D gel electrophoresis of proteins extracted from the midgut revealed 388 protein spots, of which 7% were significantly affected in their levels by DFB treatment as determined by laser densitometry. Mass spectrometric identification revealed that UDP-N-acetylglucosamine pyrophosphorylase and glutathione synthetase were up-regulated. In summary, the red flour beetle turned out to be a good model organism for investigating the global effects of bioactive materials such as insect growth regulators and other insecticides. The results of this study recapitulate all of the different DFB-induced symptoms in a single model insect, which have been previously found in several different insect species, and further illustrate that DFB treatment causes a wide range of effects at the molecular level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-276
Number of pages13
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Chitin
  • Diflubenzuron
  • Molting
  • Proteomics
  • Tiling array
  • Tribolium castaneum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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