Lippia alba is a flowering shrub in the verbena family and its essential oil (EO) is known for its sedative, antidepressant and analgesic properties. In the Amazon region of Brazil, it is used in aquaculture to anesthetize fish during transport. Many of the specialized metabolites found in EOs presumably evolved to protect plants from herbivores, especially insects. We used Drosophila to test the behavioral and physiological actions of this EO and its components. We found that 150 min exposure to the EO vapors resulted in immobilization of adult flies. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry identified the major components of the EO as the monoterpenes: citral (59%), carvone (7%) and limonene (7%). Fly immobilization by the EO was due to citral and carvone with citral producing more rapid effects than carvone. We tested whether the EO affected synaptic physiology by applying it to the larval neuromuscular junction. The EO delivered at 0.012% (v/v) produced over a 50% reduction in EPSP amplitude within 3-4 min. When the EO components were applied at 0.4 mM, citral and carvone produced a significant reduction in EPSP amplitude with citral producing the largest effect. Measurement of miniature EPSP amplitudes demonstrated that citral produced over a 50% reduction in transmitter release. Ca-imaging experiments showed that citral produced about 30% reduction in presynaptic Ca influx, which likely resulted in the decrease in transmitter release. Thus, the EO blocks synaptic transmission, largely due to citral, and this likely contributes to its behavioral effects.
Lenise Vargas Flores da Silva, Rosa Helena Veras Mourao, Jibin Manimala, and Gregory A. Lnenicka