The role of the glucose-sensing transcription factor carbohydrate-responsive element-binding protein pathway in termite queen fertility

Open Biol. 2016 May;6(5):160080. doi: 10.1098/rsob.160080. Epub 2016 May 18.


Termites are among the few animals that themselves can digest the most abundant organic polymer, cellulose, into glucose. In mice and Drosophila, glucose can activate genes via the transcription factor carbohydrate-responsive element-binding protein (ChREBP) to induce glucose utilization and de novo lipogenesis. Here, we identify a termite orthologue of ChREBP and its downstream lipogenic targets, including acetyl-CoA carboxylase and fatty acid synthase. We show that all of these genes, including ChREBP, are upregulated in mature queens compared with kings, sterile workers and soldiers in eight different termite species. ChREBP is expressed in several tissues, including ovaries and fat bodies, and increases in expression in totipotent workers during their differentiation into neotenic mature queens. We further show that ChREBP is regulated by a carbohydrate diet in termite queens. Suppression of the lipogenic pathway by a pharmacological agent in queens elicits the same behavioural alterations in sterile workers as observed in queenless colonies, supporting that the ChREBP pathway partakes in the biosynthesis of semiochemicals that convey the signal of the presence of a fertile queen. Our results highlight ChREBP as a likely key factor for the regulation and signalling of queen fertility.

Keywords: carbohydrate-responsive element-binding protein; lipogenesis; phenotypic plasticity; reproduction; social insects; transcription factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism*
  • Isoptera / classification
  • Isoptera / physiology*
  • Lipogenesis
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Interaction Maps
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation*


  • Insect Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Glucose