Age-related plasticity in the synaptic ultrastructure of neurons in the mushroom body calyx of the adult honeybee Apis mellifera

J Comp Neurol. 2012 Oct 15;520(15):3509-27. doi: 10.1002/cne.23102.


The mushroom bodies are high-order sensory integration centers in the insect brain. In the honeybee, their main sensory input regions are large, doubled calyces with modality-specific, distinct sensory neuropil regions. We investigated adult structural plasticity of input synapses in the microglomeruli of the olfactory lip and visual collar. Synapsin-immunolabeled whole-mount brains reveal that during the natural transition from nursing to foraging, a significant volume increase in the calycal subdivisions is accompanied by a decreased packing density of boutons from input projection neurons. To investigate the associated ultrastructural changes at pre- and postsynaptic sites of individual microglomeruli, we employed serial-section electron microscopy. In general, the membrane surface area of olfactory and visual projection neuron boutons increased significantly between 1-day-old bees and foragers. Both types of boutons formed ribbon and non-ribbon synapses. The percentage of ribbon synapses per bouton was significantly increased in the forager. At each presynaptic site the numbers of postsynaptic partners-mostly Kenyon cell dendrites-likewise increased. Ribbon as well as non-ribbon synapses formed mainly dyads in the 1-day-old bee, and triads in the forager. In the visual collar, outgrowing Kenyon cell dendrites form about 140 contacts upon a projection neuron bouton in the forager compared with only about 95 in the 1-day-old bee, resulting in an increased divergence ratio between the two stages. This difference suggests that synaptic changes in calycal microcircuits of the mushroom body during periods of altered sensory activity and experience promote behavioral plasticity underlying polyethism and social organization in honeybee colonies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Bees / growth & development
  • Bees / ultrastructure*
  • Female
  • Mushroom Bodies / growth & development
  • Mushroom Bodies / ultrastructure*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*