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Parallel Reinforcement Pathways for Conditioned Food Aversions in the Honeybee

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Geraldine Wright, Dr Nicola Simcock, Lewis McNicholas



Avoiding toxins in food is as important as obtaining nutrition. Conditioned food aversions have been studied in animals as diverse as nematodes and humans [1, 2], but the neural signaling mechanisms underlying this form of learning have been difficult to pinpoint. Honeybees quickly learn to associate floral cues with food [3], a trait that makes them an excellent model organism for studying the neural mechanisms of learning and memory. Here we show that honeybees not only detect toxins but can also learn to associate odors with both the taste of toxins and the postingestive consequences of consuming them. We found that two distinct monoaminergic pathways mediate learned food aversions in the honeybee. As for other insect species conditioned with salt or electric shock reinforcers [4–7], learned avoidances of odors paired with bad-tasting toxins are mediated by dopamine. Our experiments are the first to identify a second, postingestive pathway for learned olfactory aversions that involves serotonin. This second pathway may represent an ancient mechanism for food aversion learning conserved across animal lineages.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wright GA, Mustard JA, Simcock NK, Ross-Taylor AAR, McNicholas LD, Popescu A, Marion-Poll F

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Current Biology

Year: 2010

Volume: 20

Issue: 24

Pages: 2234-2240

Print publication date: 02/12/2010

Date deposited: 10/06/2013

ISSN (print): 0960-9822

ISSN (electronic): 1879-0445

Publisher: Cell Press


DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.11.040


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Funder referenceFunder name
Agronomie-Alimentation, Biologie, Environnement, Sante PhD scholarship
Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour
Wellcome Trust
DA017694National Institutes of Health (NIH; NIDA)
RR014166NIH (NCRR)