Understanding the relationship between brain gene expression and social behavior: lessons from the honey bee

Annu Rev Genet. 2012;46:591-615. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-110711-155517. Epub 2012 Sep 17.


Behavior is a complex phenotype that is plastic and evolutionarily labile. The advent of genomics has revolutionized the field of behavioral genetics by providing tools to quantify the dynamic nature of brain gene expression in relation to behavioral output. The honey bee Apis mellifera provides an excellent platform for investigating the relationship between brain gene expression and behavior given both the remarkable behavioral repertoire expressed by members of its intricate society and the degree to which behavior is influenced by heredity and the social environment. Here, we review a linked series of studies that assayed changes in honey bee brain transcriptomes associated with natural and experimentally induced changes in behavioral state. These experiments demonstrate that brain gene expression is closely linked with behavior, that changes in brain gene expression mediate changes in behavior, and that the association between specific genes and behavior exists over multiple timescales, from physiological to evolutionary.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology
  • Alternative Splicing
  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Bees / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • Distance Perception / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Insect*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Mushroom Bodies / cytology
  • Mushroom Bodies / metabolism
  • Social Behavior*
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcriptome