Pheromone-mediated gene expression in the honey bee brain

Christina M. Grozinger, Noura M. Sharabash, Charles W. Whitfield, Gene E. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

267 Scopus citations


We tested the hypothesis that queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) causes changes in gene expression in the brain of the adult worker honey bee, and that these changes can be correlated to the downstream behavioral responses induced by QMP. In support of the first hypothesis, cage experiments revealed that QMP transiently regulated expression of several hundred genes and chronically regulated the expression of 19 genes. Several of these genes were also affected by QMP in experiments with bee colonies in the field, demonstrating robust gene regulation by pheromone. To evaluate the second hypothesis, we focused on one function of QMP: delaying the transition from working in the hive (e.g., brood care, or "nursing") to foraging. We compared the list of QMP-regulated genes with the lists of genes differentially regulated in nurse and forager brains generated in a separate study. QMP consistently activated "nursing genes" and repressed "foraging genes," suggesting that QMP may delay behavioral maturation by regulating genes in the brain that produce these behavioral states. We also report here on an ortholog of the Drosophila transcription factor kruppel homolog 1 that was strongly regulated by QMP, especially in the mushroom bodies of the bee brain. These results demonstrate chronic gene regulation by a primer pheromone and illustrate the potential of genomics to trace the actions of a pheromone from perception to action, and thereby provide insights into how pheromones regulate social life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14519-14525
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Nov 15 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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