Smell and Repel

Science Signaling  01 Apr 2008:
Vol. 1, Issue 13, pp. ec120
DOI: 10.1126/stke.113ec120

Blood-feeding insects are responsible for spreading some of the deadliest infectious diseases. Topically applied insect repellents play a crucial role in protecting humans from these insects. The most widely used of these compounds, DEET, has been around for more than 50 years, but its function is still poorly understood. Ditzen et al. found in both fruit flies and in the malaria mosquito that DEET acts on the insect olfactory system by inhibiting olfactory neurons that mediate responses to attractive substances. It seems that DEET functions by masking the host odor through blocking odorant receptors that require the olfactory co-receptor OR83b.

M. Ditzen, M. Pellegrino, L. B. Vosshall, Insect odorant receptors are molecular targets of the insect repellent DEET. Science 319, 1838-1842 (2008). [Abstract] [Full Text]