Genome-wide analysis reveals differences in brain gene expression patterns associated with caste and reproductive status in honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Mol Ecol. 2007 Nov;16(22):4837-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03545.x. Epub 2007 Oct 9.


A key characteristic of eusocial species is reproductive division of labour. Honey bee colonies typically have a single reproductive queen and thousands of sterile workers. Adult queens differ dramatically from workers in anatomy, physiology, behaviour and lifespan. Young female workers can activate their ovaries and initiate egg laying; these 'reproductive' workers differ from sterile workers in anatomy, physiology, and behaviour. These differences, however, are on a much smaller scale than those observed between the queen and worker castes. Here, we use microarrays to monitor expression patterns of several thousand genes in the brains of same-aged virgin queens, sterile workers, and reproductive workers. We found large differences in expression between queens and both worker groups (~2000 genes), and much smaller differences between sterile and reproductive workers (221 genes). The expression patterns of these 221 genes in reproductive workers are more queen-like, and may represent a core group of genes associated with reproductive physiology. Furthermore, queens and reproductive workers preferentially up-regulate genes associated with the nurse bee behavioural state, which supports the hypothesis of an evolutionary link between worker division of labour and molecular pathways related to reproduction. Finally, several functional groups of genes associated with longevity in other species are significantly up-regulated in queens. Identifying the genes that underlie the differences between queens, sterile workers, and reproductive workers will allow us to begin to characterize the molecular mechanisms underlying the evolution of social behaviour and large-scale remodelling of gene networks associated with polyphenisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Bees / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression*
  • Male
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Pheromones / genetics
  • Pheromones / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Social Dominance*
  • Vitellogenins / genetics
  • Vitellogenins / metabolism


  • Pheromones
  • Vitellogenins