Neuronal plasticity in the mushroom body calyx during adult maturation in the honeybee and possible pheromonal influences

Dev Neurobiol. 2015 Dec;75(12):1368-84. doi: 10.1002/dneu.22290. Epub 2015 Jun 1.


Honeybee workers express a pronounced age-dependent polyethism switching from various indoor duties to foraging outside the hive. This transition is accompanied by tremendous changes in the sensory environment that sensory systems and higher brain centers have to cope with. Foraging and age have earlier been shown to be associated with volume changes in the mushroom bodies (MBs). Using age- and task-controlled bees this study provides a detailed framework of neuronal maturation processes in the MB calyx during the course of natural behavioral maturation. We show that the MB calyx volume already increases during the first week of adult life. This process is mainly driven by broadening of the Kenyon cell dendritic branching pattern and then followed by pruning of projection neuron axonal boutons during the actual transition from indoor to outdoor duties. To further investigate the flexible regulation of division of labor and its neuronal correlates in a honeybee colony, we studied the modulation of the nurse-forager transition via a chemical communication system, the primer pheromone ethyl oleate (EO). EO is found at high concentrations on foragers in contrast to nurse bees and was shown to delay the onset of foraging. In this study, EO effects on colony behavior were not as robust as expected, and we found no direct correlation between EO treatment and synaptic maturation in the MB calyx. In general, we assume that the primer pheromone EO rather acts in concert with other factors influencing the onset of foraging with its effect being highly adaptive.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; ethyl oleate; mushroom body; primer pheromone; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / anatomy & histology
  • Bees / growth & development*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mushroom Bodies / anatomy & histology
  • Mushroom Bodies / growth & development*
  • Mushroom Bodies / physiology*
  • Neuroanatomical Tract-Tracing Techniques
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oleic Acids / metabolism*
  • Organ Size
  • Pheromones / metabolism
  • Social Behavior


  • Oleic Acids
  • Pheromones
  • ethyl oleate