Cocaine tolerance in honey bees

PLoS One. 2013 May 31;8(5):e64920. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064920. Print 2013.


Increasingly invertebrates are being used to investigate the molecular and cellular effects of drugs of abuse to explore basic mechanisms of addiction. However, in mammals the principle factors contributing to addiction are long-term adaptive responses to repeated drug use. Here we examined whether adaptive responses to cocaine are also seen in invertebrates using the honey bee model system. Repeated topical treatment with a low dose of cocaine rendered bees resistant to the deleterious motor effects of a higher cocaine dose, indicating the development of physiological tolerance to cocaine in bees. Cocaine inhibits biogenic amine reuptake transporters, but neither acute nor repeated cocaine treatments caused measurable changes in levels of biogenic amines measured in whole bee brains. Our data show clear short and long-term behavioural responses of bees to cocaine administration, but caution that, despite the small size of the bee brain, measures of biogenic amines conducted at the whole-brain level may not reveal neurochemical effects of the drug.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Biogenic Amines / metabolism
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Tolerance*
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Cocaine

Grant support

This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Projects grant no. DP0986021 to ABB and JLC. ES is funded by an iMQRES scholarship awarded by Macquarie University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript