Tissue-specific transcriptional patterns underlie seasonal phenotypes in honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Sean T. Bresnahan, Mehmet A. Döke, Tugrul Giray, Christina M. Grozinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Faced with adverse conditions, such as winter in temperate regions or hot and dry conditions in tropical regions, many insect species enter a state of diapause, a period of dormancy associated with a reduction or arrest of physical activity, development and reproduction. Changes in common physiological pathways underlie diapause phenotypes in different insect species. However, most transcriptomic studies of diapause have not simultaneously evaluated and compared expression patterns in different tissues. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) represent a unique model system to study the mechanisms underpinning diapause-related phenotypes. In winter, honey bees exhibit a classic diapause phenotype, with reduced metabolic activity, increased physiological nutritional resources and altered hormonal profiles. However, winter bees actively heat their colony by vibrating their wing muscles; thus, this tissue is not quiescent. Here, we evaluated the transcriptional profiles of flight muscle tissue and fat body tissue (involved in nutrient storage, metabolism and immune function) of winter bees. We also evaluated two behavioural phenotypes of summer bees: nurses, which exhibit high nutritional stores and low flight activity, and foragers, which exhibit low nutritional stores and high flight activity. We found winter bees and nurses have similar fat body transcriptional profiles, whereas winter bees and foragers have similar flight muscle transcriptional profiles. Additionally, differentially expressed genes were enriched in diapause-related gene ontology terms. Thus, honey bees exhibit tissue-specific transcriptional profiles associated with seasonal phenotypes, laying the groundwork for future studies evaluating the mechanisms, evolution and consequences of this tissue-specific regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-184
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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