Juvenile hormone regulates brain-reproduction tradeoff in bumble bees but not in honey bees

Hagai Y. Shpigler, Brian Herb, Jenny Drnevich, Mark Band, Gene E. Robinson, Guy Bloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gonadotropic hormones coordinate processes in diverse tissues regulating animal reproductive physiology and behavior. Juvenile hormone (JH) is the ancient and most common gonadotropin in insects, but not in advanced eusocial honey bees and some ants. To start probing the evolutionary basis of this change, we combined endocrine manipulations, transcriptomics, and behavioral analyses to study JH regulated processes in a bumble bee showing a relatively simple level of eusociality. We found that in worker fat body, more JH-regulated genes were up- rather than down-regulated, and enriched for metabolic and biosynthetic pathways. This transcriptomic pattern is consistent with earlier evidence that JH is the major gonadotropin in bumble bees. In the brain, more JH-regulated genes were down- rather than up-regulated and enriched for protein turnover pathways. Brain ribosomal protein gene expression shows a similar trend of downregulation in dominant workers, which naturally have high JH titers. In other species, similar downregulation of protein turnover is found in aging brains or under stress, associated with compromised long-term memory and health. These findings suggest a previously unknown gonadotropin-mediated tradeoff. Analysis of published data reveals no such downregulation of protein turnover pathways in the brain of honey bee workers, which exhibit more complex eusociality and in which JH is not a gonadotropin but rather regulates division of labor. These results suggest that the evolution of complex eusociality in honey bees was associated with modifications in hormonal signalling supporting extended and extremely high fertility while reducing the ancient costs of high gonadotropin titers to the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104844
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Bees
  • Functional genomics
  • Gonadotropin
  • Juvenile hormone
  • Social evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Endocrinology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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