Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 201, Issue 7, pp 731–739 | Cite as

Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying sex- and maturation-related variation in pheromone responses in honey bees (Apis mellifera)

  • Gabriel VillarEmail author
  • Thomas C. Baker
  • Harland M. Patch
  • Christina M. Grozinger
Original Paper


In the honey bee (Apis mellifera), social organization is primarily mediated by pheromones. Queen-produced 9-oxo-2-decenoic acid (9-ODA) functions as both a social and sex pheromone, eliciting attraction in both female workers and male drones, but also affecting other critical aspects of worker physiology and behavior. These effects are also maturation related, as younger workers and sexually mature drones are most receptive to 9-ODA. While changes in the peripheral nervous system drive sex-related differences in sensitivity to 9-ODA, the mechanisms driving maturation-related shifts in receptivity to 9-ODA remain unknown. Here, we investigate the hypothesis that changes at the peripheral nervous system may be mediating plastic responses to 9-ODA by characterizing expression levels of AmOR11 (the olfactory receptor tuned to 9-ODA) and electrophysiological responses to 9-ODA. We find that receptor expression correlates significantly with behavioral receptivity to 9-ODA, with nurses and sexually mature drones exhibiting higher levels of expression than foragers and immature drones, respectively. Electrophysiological responses to 9-ODA were not found to correlate with behavioral receptivity or receptor expression, however. Thus, while receptor expression at the periphery exhibits a level of plasticity that correlates with behavior, the mechanisms driving maturation-dependent responsiveness to 9-ODA appear to function primarily in the central nervous system.


Honey bee Peripheral nervous system Pheromone Receptivity Odor-mediated behavior 



We would like to thank Bernardo Niño for expert beekeeping assistance, Dr. Andrew Myrick of the Baker laboratory for assistance with electrophysiological experiments and development of custom EAG software, and undergraduate assistants Dustin Betz, Sydney Tabaac and Jacqueline Patterson for their help during the field season, as well as members of the Grozinger lab for critical reading of the manuscript. These studies were supported by an NSF CAREER grant to CMG and a grant from the Pennsylvania Pollinators Grant Program to GV.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriel Villar
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas C. Baker
    • 1
  • Harland M. Patch
    • 1
  • Christina M. Grozinger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Entomology, Center for Pollinator Research, Center for Chemical Ecology, Huck Institutes of the Life SciencesPennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA

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