Brain regions and molecular pathways responding to food reward type and value in honey bees

Genes Brain Behav. 2016 Mar;15(3):305-17. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12275. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


The ability of honey bees to evaluate differences in food type and value is crucial for colony success, but these assessments are made by individuals who bring food to the hive, eating little, if any, of it themselves. We tested the hypothesis that responses to food type (pollen or nectar) and value involve different subsets of brain regions, and genes responsive to food. mRNA in situ hybridization of c-jun revealed that brain regions responsive to differences in food type were mostly different from regions responsive to differences in food value, except those dorsal and lateral to the mushroom body calyces, which responded to all three. Transcriptomic profiles of the mushroom bodies generated by RNA sequencing gave the following results: (1) responses to differences in food type or value included a subset of molecular pathways involved in the response to food reward; (2) genes responsive to food reward, food type and food value were enriched for (the Gene Ontology categories) mitochondrial and endoplasmic reticulum activity; (3) genes responsive to only food and food type were enriched for regulation of transcription and translation; and (4) genes responsive to only food and food value were enriched for regulation of neuronal signaling. These results reveal how activities necessary for colony survival are channeled through the reward system of individual honey bees.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; RNAseq; WGCNA; dopamine; ecology; honey bee; in situ hybridization; mushroom bodies; reward system; social behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics
  • Bees / metabolism
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena
  • Food
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Mushroom Bodies / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reward


  • RNA, Messenger