Altering social cue perception impacts honey bee aggression with minimal impacts on aggression-related brain gene expression

James W. Harrison, Joseph H. Palmer, Clare C. Rittschof

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4 Scopus citations


Gene expression changes resulting from social interactions may give rise to long term behavioral change, or simply reflect the activity of neural circuitry associated with behavioral expression. In honey bees, social cues broadly modulate aggressive behavior and brain gene expression. Previous studies suggest that expression changes are limited to contexts in which social cues give rise to stable, relatively long-term changes in behavior. Here we use a traditional beekeeping approach that inhibits aggression, smoke exposure, to deprive individuals of aggression-inducing olfactory cues and evaluate whether behavioral changes occur in absence of expression variation in a set of four biomarker genes (drat, cyp6g1/2, GB53860, inos) associated with aggression in previous studies. We also evaluate two markers of a brain hypoxic response (hif1α, hsf) to determine whether smoke induces molecular changes at all. We find that bees with blocked sensory perception as a result of smoke exposure show a strong, temporary inhibition of aggression relative to bees allowed to perceive normal social cues. However, blocking sensory perception had minimal impacts on aggression-relevant gene expression, althought it did induce a hypoxic molecular response in the brain. Results suggest that certain genes differentiate social cue-induced changes in aggression from long-term modulation of this phenotype.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14642
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch Program under accession number 1012993, by a Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research Pollinator Health Fund (Grant ID: 549049), and by the University of Kentucky Bucks for Brains Summer Research Program. We thank Seth Biedenbender for help setting up and running the behavioral experiments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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