Common and novel transcriptional routes to behavioral maturation in worker and male honey bees

Genes Brain Behav. 2012 Apr;11(3):253-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2011.00750.x. Epub 2011 Dec 5.


Worker honey bees (Apis mellifera) undergo a process of behavioral maturation leading to their transition from in-hive tasks to foraging--a process which is associated with profound transcriptional changes in the brain. Changes in brain gene expression observed during worker behavioral maturation could represent either a derived program underlying division of labor or a general program unrelated to sociality. Male bees (drones) undergo a process of behavioral maturation associated with the onset of mating flights, but do not partake in division of labor. Drones thus provide an excellent reference point for polarizing transcriptional changes associated with behavioral maturation in honey bees. We assayed the brain transcriptomes of adult drones and workers to compare and contrast differences associated with behavioral maturation in the two sexes. Both behavioral maturation and sex were associated with changes in expression of thousands of genes in the brain. Many genes involved in neuronal development, behavior, and the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters regulating the perception of reward showed sex-biased gene expression. Furthermore, most of the transcriptional changes associated with behavioral maturation were common to drones and workers, consistent with common genetic and physiological regulation. Our study suggests that there is a common behavioral maturation program that has been co-opted and modified to yield the different behavioral and cognitive phenotypes of worker and drone bees.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Brain Chemistry / genetics
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Male
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Behavior
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology*