Changes in neuronal acetylcholinesterase gene expression and division of labor in honey bee colonies

M. Shapira, C. K. Thompson, H. Soreq, G. E. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Division of labor in honey bee colonies is highlighted by adult bees making a transition at 2-3 wk of age from working in the hive to foraging for nectar and pollen outside. This behavioral development involves acquisition of new tasks that may require advanced learning capabilities. Because acetylcholinesterase (AChE) hydrolyzes acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter associated with learning in the insect brain, we searched for changes in AChE expression in the brain during bee behavioral development. Biochemical aspects of the AChE protein were similar in foragers and "nurse" bees that work in the hive tending brood. However, catalytic AChE activity was significantly lower in foragers. Cloning of bee AChE cDNA enabled mRNA analysis, which demonstrated that the forager-related decrease in AChE activity was associated with decreased AChE mRNA levels. This was particularly apparent in the mushroom bodies, a brain region known to be involved with olfactory and visual learning and memory. In addition, treatment with the AChE-inhibitor metrifonate improved performance in an olfactory-learning assay. These findings demonstrate long-term, naturally occurring developmental downregulation of AChE gene expression in the bee brain, and suggest that this genomic plasticity can contribute to facilitated learning capabilities in forager bees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Molecular Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Behavioral development
  • Expression
  • Honey bee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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