IR40a neurons are not DEET detectors

A few weeks ago, after more than a year in review, our latest work got published as a “Brief Communication Arising” in Nature. It is entitled “IR40a neurons are not DEET detectors” [1] and reports the inability to reproduce experiments reported by Kain et al.’s in: “Odour receptors and neurons for DEET and new insect repellents” [2]. Our publication is accompanied by the retraction of the original paper from Kain et al. [3].

Kain et al. originally identified sensory neurons bearing the Ir40a receptor to act as DEET detectors in insects. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the most common insect repellent and widely used to protect against disease vectors like e.g. mosquitoes. But as DEET is considered toxic for humans and may dissolve plastic, there is a strong interest to find a healthy replacement.

Our data showed no physiological responses of Ir40a neurons towards DEET or any of the other substances described by Kain et al.. Instead we observed activity in Ir40a neurons from stimulation with ammonia. Interestingly two recent publications further support our findings that Ir40a neurons are not DEET the DEET detectors: The Stensmyr group found Ir40a sensory neurons to be hygro- and thermo-sensitive [4], and the Leal lab identified an receptor of the OR class to be involved in DEET detection in mosquitoes [5].

More information about the retraction can be found in an article at Retraction Watch. This also features short interviews with Richard Benton and Anand Ray as well as an additional comment from Richard:


  1. Silbering, A.F., Bell, R., Münch, D., Cruchet, S., Gomez-Diaz, C., Laudes, T., Galizia, C.G., Benton, R., 2016. Ir40a neurons are not DEET detectors. Nature 534, E5–E7. doi:10.1038/nature18321 

  2. Kain, P., Boyle, S.M., Tharadra, S.K., Guda, T., Pham, C., Dahanukar, A., Ray, A., 2013. Odour receptors and neurons for DEET and new insect repellents. Nature 502, 507–512. doi:10.1038/nature12594 

  3. Kain, P., Michael Boyle, S., Khalid Tharadra, S., Guda, T., Pham, C., Dahanukar, A., Ray, A., 2016. Retraction: Odour receptors and neurons for DEET and new insect repellents. Nature advance online publication. doi:10.1038/nature18613 

  4. Enjin, A., Zaharieva, E.E., Frank, D.D., Mansourian, S., Suh, G.S.B., Gallio, M., Stensmyr, M.C., 2016. Humidity Sensing in Drosophila. Current Biology. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.049 

  5. Xu, P., Choo, Y.-M., Rosa, A.D.L., Leal, W.S., 2014. Mosquito odorant receptor for DEET and methyl jasmonate. PNAS 201417244. doi:10.1073/pnas.1417244111 

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