Division of labor is a hallmark of social insects. In the honeybee (Apis mellifera) each sterile female worker performs a series of social tasks. The most drastic changes in behavior occur when a nurse bee, who takes care of the brood and the queen in the hive, transitions to foraging behavior. Foragers provision the colony with pollen, nectar or water. Nurse bees and foragers differ in numerous behaviors, including responsiveness to gustatory stimuli. Differences in gustatory responsiveness, in turn, might be involved in regulating division of labor through differential sensory response thresholds. Biogenic amines are important modulators of behavior. Tyramine and octopamine have been shown to increase gustatory responsiveness in honeybees when injected into the thorax, thereby possibly triggering social organization. So far, most of the experiments investigating the role of amines on gustatory responsiveness have focused on the brain. The potential role of the fat body in regulating sensory responsiveness and division of labor has large been neglected. We here investigated the role of the fat body in modulating gustatory responsiveness through tyramine signaling in different social roles of honeybees. We quantified levels of tyramine, tyramine receptor gene expression and the effect of elevating fat body tyramine titers on gustatory responsiveness in both nurse bees and foragers. Our data suggest that elevating the tyramine titer in the fat body pharmacologically increases gustatory responsiveness in foragers, but not in nurse bees. This differential effect of tyramine on gustatory responsiveness correlates with a higher natural gustatory responsiveness of foragers, with a higher tyramine receptor (Amtar1) mRNA expression in fat bodies of foragers and with lower baseline tyramine titers in fat bodies of foragers compared to those of nurse bees. We suggest that differential tyramine signaling in the fat body has an important role in the plasticity of division of labor through changing gustatory responsiveness.
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- biogenic amines
- division of labor
- nurse bee