Environment- and age-dependent plasticity of synaptic complexes in the mushroom bodies of honeybee queens

Brain Behav Evol. 2006;68(1):1-14. doi: 10.1159/000092309. Epub 2006 Mar 24.


Diversity in behavior plays a crucial role for the division of labor in insect societies. Social insects such as honeybees provide excellent model systems to investigate neuronal principles underlying behavioral plasticity. The two female castes, queens and workers, differ substantially in anatomy, physiology, aging and behavior. The different phenotypes are induced by environmental factors rather than genetic differences. Here we investigated environment- and age-dependent effects on the synaptic organization within higher order neuropils of the honeybee brain. Synaptic complexes (microglomeruli) in sensory-input regions of the mushroom bodies, prominent higher sensory integration centers, were analyzed quantitatively using fluorescent markers and confocal microscopy. Pre- and postsynaptic compartments of individual microglomeruli were labeled by anti-synapsin immunolabeling and f-actin detection with phalloidin in dendritic spines of mushroom-body intrinsic neurons. The results demonstrate that in queens the numbers of microglomeruli in the olfactory and visual input regions of the mushroom-body calyx are significantly lower than in workers. In queens raised in incubators, microglomeruli were affected by differences in pupal rearing temperature within the range of naturally occurring temperatures (32-36 degrees C). The highest numbers of microglomeruli developed at a lower temperature compared to workers (33.5 vs. 34.5 degrees C). We found a striking adult plasticity of microglomeruli numbers throughout the extended life-span of queens. Whereas microglomeruli in the olfactory lip increased with age ( approximately 55%), microglomeruli in the visual collar significantly decreased ( approximately 35%). We propose that developmental and adult plasticity of the synaptic circuitry in the mushroom-body calyx might underlie caste- and age-specific adaptations in behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / cytology
  • Bees / growth & development
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Developmental Biology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mushroom Bodies / cytology
  • Mushroom Bodies / growth & development
  • Mushroom Bodies / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Pupa / growth & development
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Differentiation
  • Social Environment*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Temperature