August 4, 2009

Research: DEET neurotoxic to bugs, animals

DEET, the active ingredient in many insect repellents, has been found to be neurotoxic in insects and mammals, French researchers reported Tuesday.

Because of their finding, researchers are saying more investigations are needed quickly to either confirm or dismiss potential neurotoxicity to humans, the researchers said in a news release.

We've found that DEET is not simply a behavior-modifying chemical but also inhibits the activity of a key central nervous system enzyme, acetycholinesterase, in both insects and mammals, said Vincent Corbel of the Institute de Recherche pour le Development in Montpellier, France, who co-led a team of researchers investigating the toxicity of DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide.

In a number of experiments, Corbel and his colleagues found DEET inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme as did two other insecticide.

These findings question the safety of DEET, particularly in combination with other chemicals, and they highlight the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to the development of safer insect repellents for use in public health, Corbel said.

Their findings were published in the open-access journal BMC Biology.