Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying sex- and maturation-related variation in pheromone responses in honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Gabriel Villar, Thomas Charles Baker, Harland Martin Patch, Christina M. Grozinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In the honey bee (Apis mellifera), social organization is primarily mediated by pheromones. Queen-produced 9-oxo-2-decenoic acid (9-ODA) functions as both a social and sex pheromone, eliciting attraction in both female workers and male drones, but also affecting other critical aspects of worker physiology and behavior. These effects are also maturation related, as younger workers and sexually mature drones are most receptive to 9-ODA. While changes in the peripheral nervous system drive sex-related differences in sensitivity to 9-ODA, the mechanisms driving maturation-related shifts in receptivity to 9-ODA remain unknown. Here, we investigate the hypothesis that changes at the peripheral nervous system may be mediating plastic responses to 9-ODA by characterizing expression levels of AmOR11 (the olfactory receptor tuned to 9-ODA) and electrophysiological responses to 9-ODA. We find that receptor expression correlates significantly with behavioral receptivity to 9-ODA, with nurses and sexually mature drones exhibiting higher levels of expression than foragers and immature drones, respectively. Electrophysiological responses to 9-ODA were not found to correlate with behavioral receptivity or receptor expression, however. Thus, while receptor expression at the periphery exhibits a level of plasticity that correlates with behavior, the mechanisms driving maturation-dependent responsiveness to 9-ODA appear to function primarily in the central nervous system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-739
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 13 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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