Carbon dioxide (CO2) is important in insect ecology, eliciting a range of behaviours across different species. Interestingly, the numbers of CO2 gustatory receptors (GRs) vary among insect species. In the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, two GRs (DmelGR21a and DmelGR63a) have been shown to detect CO2. In the butterfly, moth, beetle and mosquito species studied so far, three CO2 GR genes have been identified, while in tsetse flies, four CO2 GR genes have been identified. In other species including honeybees, pea aphids, ants, locusts and wasps, no CO2 GR genes have been identified from the genome. These genomic differences may suggest different mechanisms for CO2 detection exist in different insects but, with the exception of Drosophila and mosquitoes, limited attention has been paid to the CO2 GRs in insects. Here, we cloned three putative CO2 GR genes from the cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera and performed phylogenetic and expression analysis. All three H. armigera CO2 GRs (HarmGR1, HarmGR2 and HarmGR3) are specifically expressed in labial palps, the CO2-sensing tissue of this moth. HarmGR3 is significantly activated by NaHCO3 when expressed in insect Sf9 cells but HarmGR1 and HarmGR2 are not. This is the first report characterizing the function of lepidopteran CO2 receptors, which contributes to our general understanding of the molecular mechanisms of insect CO2 gustatory receptors
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