Different roles for honey bee mushroom bodies and central complex in visual learning of colored lights in an aversive conditioning assay

Jenny A. Plath, Brian V. Entler, Nicholas H. Kirkerud, Ulrike Schlegel, C. Giovanni Galizia, Andrew B. Barron*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    26 Citations (Scopus)
    29 Downloads (Pure)


    The honey bee is an excellent visual learner, but we know little about how and why it performs so well, or how visual information is learned by the bee brain. Here we examined the different roles of two key integrative regions of the brain in visual learning: the mushroom bodies and the central complex. We tested bees’ learning performance in a new assay of color learning that used electric shock as punishment. In this assay a light field was paired with electric shock. The other half of the conditioning chamber was illuminated with light of a different wavelength and not paired with shocks. The unrestrained bee could run away from the light stimulus and thereby associate one wavelength with punishment, and the other with safety. We compared learning performance of bees in which either the central complex or mushroom bodies had been transiently inactivated by microinjection of the reversible anesthetic procaine. Control bees learned to escape the shock-paired light field and to spend more time in the safe light field after a few trials. When ventral lobe neurons of the mushroom bodies were silenced, bees were no longer able to associate one light field with shock. By contrast, silencing of one collar region of the mushroom body calyx did not alter behavior in the learning assay in comparison to control treatment. Bees with silenced central complex neurons did not leave the shock-paired light field in the middle trials of training, even after a few seconds of being shocked. We discussed how mushroom bodies and the central complex both contribute to aversive visual learning with an operant component.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number98
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
    Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2017

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • visual learning
    • operant learning
    • mushroom bodies
    • central complex
    • honey bees
    • procaine


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