The Neuropeptide Corazonin Controls Social Behavior and Caste Identity in Ants

Cell. 2017 Aug 10;170(4):748-759.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.07.014.


Social insects are emerging models to study how gene regulation affects behavior because their colonies comprise individuals with the same genomes but greatly different behavioral repertoires. To investigate the molecular mechanisms that activate distinct behaviors in different castes, we exploit a natural behavioral plasticity in Harpegnathos saltator, where adult workers can transition to a reproductive, queen-like state called gamergate. Analysis of brain transcriptomes during the transition reveals that corazonin, a neuropeptide homologous to the vertebrate gonadotropin-releasing hormone, is downregulated as workers become gamergates. Corazonin is also preferentially expressed in workers and/or foragers from other social insect species. Injection of corazonin in transitioning Harpegnathos individuals suppresses expression of vitellogenin in the brain and stimulates worker-like hunting behaviors, while inhibiting gamergate behaviors, such as dueling and egg deposition. We propose that corazonin is a central regulator of caste identity and behavior in social insects.

Keywords: ants; brain; corazonin; epigenetics; foraging; gene regulation; neuropeptides; social behavior; transcriptomes; vitellogenin.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / genetics
  • Ants / growth & development
  • Ants / metabolism*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Social Behavior


  • Insect Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • corazonin protein, insect