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Hormonal control of the yolk precursor vitellogenin regulates immune function and longevity in honeybees

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Thomas Kirkwood


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A striking example of plasticity in life span is seen in social insects such as ants and bees, where different castes may display distinct ageing patterns. In particular, the honeybee offers an intriguing illustration of environmental control on ageing rate. Honeybee workers display a temporal division of labour where young bees (or 'hive bees') perform tasks within the brood nest, and older bees forage for nectar, pollen propolis and water. When bees switch from the hive bee to the forager stage, their cellular defence machinery is down-regulated by a dramatic reduction in the number of functioning haemocytes (immunocytes). This study documents that the yolk precursor vitellogenin is likely to be involved in a regulatory pathway that controls the observed decline in somatic maintenance function of honeybee foragers. An association between the glyco-lipoprotein vitellogenin and immune function has not previously been reported for any organism. Honeybee workers are functionally sterile, and via the expression of juvenile hormone, a key gonotrophic hormone in adult insects, their vitellogenin levels are influenced by social interactions with other bees. Our results therefore suggest that in terms of maintenance of the cellular immune system, senescence of the honeybee worker is under social control. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Amdam GV, Simoes ZLP, Hagen A, Norberg K, Schroder K, Mikkelsen O, Kirkwood TBL, Omholt SW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Experimental Gerontology

Year: 2004

Volume: 39

Issue: 5

Pages: 767-773

ISSN (print): 0531-5565

ISSN (electronic): 1873-6815

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.exger.2004.02.010

PubMed id: 15130671


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Funder referenceFunder name
BEP17042Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council