Parasitology Research

, Volume 116, Issue 12, pp 3265–3274 | Cite as

Spore load and immune response of honey bees naturally infected by Nosema ceranae

  • Wenfeng Li
  • Jay D. Evans
  • Jianghong Li
  • Songkun Su
  • Michele Hamilton
  • Yanping ChenEmail author
Original Paper


Nosema ceranae causes widespread infection in adult workers of European honey bees, Apis mellifera, and has often been linked to honey bee colony losses worldwide. Previous investigations of honey bee immune response to N. ceranae infection were largely based on laboratory experiment, however, little is known about the immune response of honey bees that are naturally infected by N. ceranae. Here, we compared the infection levels of N. ceranae in three different categories of adult bees (emergent bees, nurses, and foragers) and detected the host immune response to the N. ceranae infection under natural conditions. Our studies showed that the Nosema spore load and infection prevalence varied among the different types of adult workers, and both of them increased as honey bees aged: No infection was detected in emergent bees, nurses had a medium spore load and prevalence, while foragers were with the highest Nosema infection level and prevalence. Quantification of the mRNA levels of antimicrobial peptides (abaecin, apidaecin, defensin-1, defensin-2, and hymenoptaecin) and microbial recognition proteins (PGRP-S1, PGRP-S2, PGRP-S3, PGRP-LC, GNBP1-1, and GNBP1-2) confirmed the involvement of the Toll and/or Imd immune pathways in the host response to N. ceranae infection, and revealed an activation of host immune response by N. ceranae infection under natural conditions. Additionally, the levels of immune response were positively correlated with the Nosema spore loads in the infected bees. The information gained from this study will be relevant to the predictive modeling of honey bee disease dynamics for Nosema disease prevention and management.


Nosema ceranae Apis mellifera Immune response Antimicrobial peptides Microbial recognition proteins 



We thank Bart Smith, Sam Abban, and Andy Ulsamer for their laboratory and field assistance. We also thank anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. The work is supported by United States Department of Agriculture—National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) grant 2014-67013-21784 and the Chinese fund for Modern Agro-industry Technology Research System (No CARS-45-KXJ3).

Supplementary material

436_2017_5630_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© US Government (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wenfeng Li
    • 1
  • Jay D. Evans
    • 1
  • Jianghong Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Songkun Su
    • 2
  • Michele Hamilton
    • 1
  • Yanping Chen
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.USDA-ARS Bee Research LaboratoryBeltsvilleUSA
  2. 2.College of Bee ScienceFujian Agriculture and Forestry UniversityFuzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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