Histone deacetylase inhibitor activity in royal jelly might facilitate caste switching in bees

EMBO Rep. 2011 Mar;12(3):238-43. doi: 10.1038/embor.2011.9. Epub 2011 Feb 18.


Worker and queen bees are genetically indistinguishable. However, queen bees are fertile, larger and have a longer lifespan than their female worker counterparts. Differential feeding of larvae with royal jelly controls this caste switching. There is emerging evidence that the queen-bee phenotype is driven by epigenetic mechanisms. In this study, we show that royal jelly--the secretion produced by the hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands of worker bees--has histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) activity. A fatty acid, (E)-10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10HDA), which accounts for up to 5% of royal jelly, harbours this HDACi activity. Furthermore, 10HDA can reactivate the expression of epigenetically silenced genes in mammalian cells. Thus, the epigenetic regulation of queen-bee development is probably driven, in part, by HDACi activity in royal jelly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics
  • Bees / growth & development
  • Bees / metabolism
  • Bees / physiology*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • Insect Hormones / metabolism*
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Phenotype


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Insect Hormones
  • 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid
  • royal jelly