Bumble bee queens activate dopamine production and gene expression in nutritional signaling pathways in the brain

To explore the neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying caste-specific behavior and its evolution from primitive to advanced eusocial bees, the monoamine levels and expression of genes involved in monoamine production and signaling in the brain were compared between the castes of Bombus ignitus. Higher levels of dopamine and its related substances were found in the brains of newly emerged queens than in the brains of emerged workers. The degree of caste differences in B. ignitus was smaller than that reported in Apis mellifera, indicating a link to different social stages in the two species. There was no differential expression in genes involved in dopamine biosynthesis between castes, suggesting that the high dopamine production in queens was not largely influenced by the expression of these genes at emergence, rather it might be influenced by tyrosine supply.

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Fig: Levels of dopamine and its related substances in the brain of queens and workers in Bombus ignitus

Genome-wide analyses of gene expression by RNA-sequencing indicated that a greater number of genes involved in nutrition were actively expressed in the brains of newly emerged queens in comparison to the emerged workers. Some of the expression was confirmed by real-time quantitative PCR. The signaling pathways driven by the expression of these genes may be associated with dopamine signaling or the parallel activation of dopamine production.

Sasaki, K., Yokoi, K. & Toga, K. Bumble bee queens activate dopamine production and gene expression in nutritional signaling pathways in the brain. Sci Rep 11, 5526 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84992-2

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