Effect of age, behaviour and social environment on honey bee brain plasticity

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2009 Aug;195(8):733-40. doi: 10.1007/s00359-009-0449-0. Epub 2009 May 12.


We examined the effects of behaviour, age and social environment on mushroom body volume in adult bees. The mushroom bodies are regions of the central brain important for sensory integration and learning. Their volume was influenced by behaviour throughout life: always larger in forager bees than age-matched nurse bees, even in old bees up to 93 days of age as adults. Mushroom body development was influenced by the social environment in the first 8 days of adult life, with different environments having markedly different effects on mushroom body size. Compared to hive-reared bees, isolation slowed mushroom body growth, but bees reared in isolation confined with a single dead bee showed a dramatic increase in mushroom body volume comparable to that seen in active foragers. Despite their precocious mushroom body development, these bees did not show improved performance in an olfactory learning test. Since simple environmental manipulations can both accelerate and delay mushroom body growth in young bees, and since mushroom body volume is sensitive to behaviour throughout life, the honey bee has great potential as a model for exploring the interactions between environment, behaviour and brain structure.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Bees* / anatomy & histology
  • Bees* / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Mushroom Bodies / cytology*
  • Mushroom Bodies / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Smell
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Environment*