Background: We conducted a large-scale transcriptomic profiling of selected regions of the central nervous system (CNS) across three species of honey bees, in foragers that were performing dance behavior to communicate to their nestmates the location, direction and profitability of an attractive floral resource. We used microarrays to measure gene expression in bees from Apis mellifera, dorsata and florea, species that share major traits unique to the genus and also show striking differences in biology and dance communication. The goals of this study were to determine the extent of regional specialization in gene expression and to explore the molecular basis of dance communication.
Principal findings: This "snapshot" of the honey bee CNS during dance behavior provides strong evidence for both species-consistent and species-specific differences in gene expression. Gene expression profiles in the mushroom bodies consistently showed the biggest differences relative to the other CNS regions. There were strong similarities in gene expression between the central brain and the second thoracic ganglion across all three species; many of the genes were related to metabolism and energy production. We also obtained gene expression differences between CNS regions that varied by species: A. mellifera differed the most, while dorsata and florea tended to be more similar.
Significance: Species differences in gene expression perhaps mirror known differences in nesting habit, ecology and dance behavior between mellifera, florea and dorsata. Species-specific differences in gene expression in selected CNS regions that relate to synaptic activity and motor control provide particularly attractive candidate genes to explain the differences in dance behavior exhibited by these three honey bee species. Similarities between central brain and thoracic ganglion provide a unique perspective on the potential coupling of these two motor-related regions during dance behavior and perhaps provide a snapshot of the energy intensive process of dance output generation. Mushroom body results reflect known roles for this region in the regulation of learning, memory and rhythmic behavior.