The mushroom bodies of insects are viewed as key neuropils for sensory integration and perhaps learning and memory. In Hymenoptera, particularly ants, the calyx of the mushroom bodies is divided into two main regions, the lip and the collar. Although most ants are highly dependent on olfaction and have enlarged calyces comprised mostly of lip, some ant groups are also highly visual and have well-developed collars. The desert ant Cataglyphis albicans, known for its navigational abilities, shifts from the dark olfactory demanding nest interior to the visually demanding desert environment, and unlike many other ants their mushroom bodies are comprised of both a well-developed lip and collar. In this study, using electron microscope serial-sectioning and 3D-reconstructions, we show that axonal processes that innervate the lip and collar are inherently different in structure and synaptic connectivity. The boutons of the lip are larger, with more synaptic vesicles and larger synapses than the collar, while boutons of the collar have more postsynaptic partners per synapse. Our morphological findings suggest that the signals originating from olfactory projection neurons that innervate the lip appear stronger and more likely to propagate than signals that innervate the collar, while the signals entering the collar appear relatively weaker and are further integrated between more postsynaptic partners. We discuss the differences of the signaling properties between the lip and collar projection neurons and suggest that the greater postsynaptic integration in the collar is presumably for spatial processing for visual navigation in Cataglyphis.
Copyright 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.