Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 13, pp 12329–12341 | Cite as

Mode of action of nanoparticles against insects

  • Giovanni BenelliEmail author
Review Article


The employment of nanoparticles obtained through various synthesis routes as novel pesticides recently attracted high research attention. An impressive number of studies have been conducted to test their toxic potential against a wide number of arthropod pests and vectors, with major emphasis on mosquitoes and ticks. However, precise information on the mechanisms of action of nanoparticles against insects and mites are limited, with the noteworthy exception of silica, alumina, silver, and graphene oxide nanoparticles on insects, while no information is available for mites. Here, I summarize current knowledge about the mechanisms of action of nanoparticles against insects. Both silver and graphene oxide nanoparticles have a significant impact on insect antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes, leading to oxidative stress and cell death. Ag nanoparticles also reduced acetylcholinesterase activity, while polystyrene nanoparticles inhibited CYP450 isoenzymes. Au nanoparticles can act as trypsin inhibitors and disrupt development and reproduction. Metal nanoparticles can bind to S and P in proteins and nucleic acids, respectively, leading to a decrease in membrane permeability, therefore to organelle and enzyme denaturation, followed by cell death. Besides, Ag nanoparticles up- and downregulate key insect genes, reducing protein synthesis and gonadotrophin release, leading to developmental damages and reproductive failure. The toxicity of SiO2 and Al2O3 nanoparticles is due to their binding to the insect cuticle, followed by physico-sorption of waxes and lipids, leading to insect dehydration. In the final section, insect nanotoxicology research trends are critically discussed, outlining major challenges to predict the ecotoxicological consequences arising from the real-world use of nanoparticles as pesticides.


Acetylcholinesterase Acute toxicity Alumina nanoparticles Aquatic toxicology CYP450 isoenzymes Dengue Insecticide Integrated vector management Invertebrate toxicology Lyme disease Malaria Mechanism of action Mites Mosquito control Mosquito vectors Polystyrene nanoparticles Silica nanoparticles Silver nanoparticles Ticks Titania nanoparticles Trypsin inhibitor Zinc oxide nanoparticles Zika virus 



The author is grateful to Andrea Lucchi and Angelo Canale for their kind suggestions and comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Giovanni Benelli declares no competing interests. The mention of trade names or commercial products in this article does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the University of Pisa and Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agriculture, Food and EnvironmentUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  2. 2.The BioRobotics InstituteSant’Anna School of Advanced StudiesPisaItaly

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