Structure of an Insecticide Sequestering Carboxylesterase from the Disease Vector Culex quinquefasciatus: What Makes an Enzyme a Good Insecticide Sponge?

Davis H. Hopkins, Nicholas J. Fraser, Peter D. Mabbitt, Paul D. Carr, John G. Oakeshott, Colin J. Jackson (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Carboxylesterase (CBE)-mediated metabolic resistance to organophosphate and carbamate insecticides is a major problem for the control of insect disease vectors, such as the mosquito. The most common mechanism involves overexpression of CBEs that bind to the insecticide with high affinity, thereby sequestering them before they can interact with their target. However, the absence of any structure for an insecticide-sequestering CBE limits our understanding of the molecular basis for this process. We present the first structure of a CBE involved in sequestration, Cqestβ21, from the mosquito disease vector Culex quinquefasciatus. Lysine methylation was used to obtain the crystal structure of Cqestβ21, which adopts a canonical α/β-hydrolase fold that has high similarity to the target of organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, acetylcholinesterase. Sequence similarity networks of the insect carboxyl/cholinesterase family demonstrate that CBEs associated with metabolic insecticide resistance across many species share a level of similarity that distinguishes them from a variety of other classes. This is further emphasized by the structural similarities and differences in the binding pocket and active site residues of Cqestβ21 and other insect carboxyl/cholinesterases. Stopped-flow and steady-state inhibition studies support a major role for Cqestβ21 in organophosphate resistance and a minor role in carbamate resistance. Comparison with another isoform associated with insecticide resistance, Cqestβ1, showed both enzymes have similar affinity to insecticides, despite 16 amino acid differences between the two proteins. This provides a molecular understanding of pesticide sequestration by insect CBEs and could facilitate the design of CBE-specific inhibitors to circumvent this resistance mechanism in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5512-5525
Number of pages14
Issue number41
Early online date29 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2017


  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Carbamates/chemistry
  • Carboxylesterase/chemistry
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Culex/enzymology
  • Insect Proteins/chemistry
  • Insecticides/chemistry
  • Kinetics
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Mutation
  • Organophosphates/chemistry
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Folding
  • Recombinant Proteins/chemistry
  • Species Specificity
  • Umbelliferones/chemistry


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