The ontogeny of immunity in the honey bee, Apis mellifera L. following an immune challenge

J Insect Physiol. 2011 Jul;57(7):1023-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2011.04.020. Epub 2011 May 5.


The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is an ideal system for investigating ontogenetic changes in the immune system, because it combines holometabolous development within a eusocial caste system. As adults, male and female bees are subject to differing selective pressures: worker bees (females) exhibit temporal polyethism, while the male drones invest in mating. They are further influenced by changes in the threat of pathogen infection at different life stages. We investigated the immune response of workers and drones at all developmental phases, from larvae through to late stage adults, assaying both a constitutive (phenoloxidase, PO activity) and induced (antimicrobial peptide, AMP) immune response. We found that larval bees have low levels of PO activity. Adult workers produced stronger immune responses than drones, and a greater plasticity in immune investment. Immune challenge resulted in lower levels of PO activity in adult workers, which may be due to the rapid utilisation and a subsequent failure to replenish the constitutive phenoloxidase. Both adult workers and drones responded to an immune challenge by producing higher titres of AMPs, suggesting that the cost of this response prohibits its constant maintenance. Both castes showed signs of senescence in immune investment in the AMP response. Different sexes and life stages therefore alter their immune system management based on the combined factors of disease risk and life history.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / immunology
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism
  • Bees / growth & development
  • Bees / immunology*
  • Bees / metabolism
  • Bees / microbiology
  • England
  • Escherichia coli / immunology
  • Female
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Insect Proteins / immunology
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Larva / microbiology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology
  • Male
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / immunology*
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Pupa / growth & development
  • Pupa / metabolism
  • Pupa / microbiology


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Insect Proteins
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase