Functional flexibility of the honey bee hypopharyngeal gland in a dequeened colony

Zoolog Sci. 2000 Nov 1;17(8):1089-94. doi: 10.2108/zsj.17.1089.


The role of the worker honey bee Apis mellifera L. changes depending on age after eclosion (age polyethism): young workers (nurse bees) take care of their brood by synthesizing and secreting brood food (royal jelly), while older workers (foragers) forage for nectar and process it into honey. Previously, we showed that the major proteins synthesized in the hypopharyngeal gland of the worker change from brood food proteins to alpha-glucosidase at the single secretory cell level in parallel with this age polyethism [Kubo et al., J. Biochem. 119, 291-295 (1996); Ohashi et al., Eur. J. Biochem. 249, 797-802 (1997)]. Here, we examined whether the function of the hypopharyngeal gland has flexibility depending on the colony conditions, by creating a dequeened colony in which the older workers were compelled to feed the drone larvae. It was found that most of the older workers in the dequeened colony synthesized brood food proteins as did nurse bees. Furthermore, the percentage of workers that synthesized brood food proteins was maintained at 80-90% of the total workers for at least two months, as in a normal colony. These results indicate that the function of the hypopharyngeal gland cells of the worker has flexibility and can, if necessary, be maintained as that of the nurse bee, depending on the condition of the colony.