Reassessment of the role of gut alkalinity and detergency in insect herbivory

Gary W. Felton, Sean S. Duffey

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81 Scopus citations


Previously it was reported that significant amounts of the tomato phenolic, chlorogenic acid, were oxidized in the digestive system of generalist feeders Spodoplera exigua and Helicoverpa zea. The covalent binding of the oxidized phenolic (i.e., quinone) to dietary protein exerts a strong antinutritive effect against larvae. In this study, we examined the fate of ingested chlorogenic acid in larval Manduca sexta, a leaf-feeding specialist of solanaceous plants. Significant amounts of chlorogenic acid were bound to excreted protein by M. sexta when larvae fed on tomato foliage. However, in the case of M. sexta we suggest that the strong alkalinity and detergency of the midgut may minimize the antinutritive effects of oxidized phenolics. The solubility of tomato leaf protein is significantly greater at pH 9.7, representative of the midgut of M. sexta, than at pH 8.0, representative of the midguts of H. zea and S. exigua. We suggest that this increase in solubility would compensate for any loss in bioavailability of essential amino acids caused by the covalent binding of chlorogenic acid to amino acids. Furthermore, lysolecithin, a surfactant likely to contribute to the detergent properties of the midgut fluid, was shown to enhance protein solubility as well as inhibit polyphenol oxidase activity. The adaptive significance of gut alkalinity and detergency is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1821-1836
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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