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Open Access Research article

Modulation of social interactions by immune stimulation in honey bee, Apis mellifera, workers

F-J Richard12*, A Aubert3 and CM Grozinger1

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Entomology and Genetics, WM Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, Gardner Hall, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

2 Laboratoire Ecologie, Evolution, Symbiose, Université de Poitiers, 86000 Poitiers, France

3 DESCO, Faculté des Sciences, Parc de Grandmont, 37200 Tours, France

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:50  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-50

Published: 17 November 2008

Abstract

Background

Immune response pathways have been relatively well-conserved across animal species, with similar systems in both mammals and invertebrates. Interestingly, honey bees have substantially reduced numbers of genes associated with immune function compared with solitary insect species. However, social species such as honey bees provide an excellent environment for pathogen or parasite transmission with controlled environmental conditions in the hive, high population densities, and frequent interactions. This suggests that honey bees may have developed complementary mechanisms, such as behavioral modifications, to deal with disease.

Results

Here, we demonstrate that activation of the immune system in honey bees (using bacterial lipopolysaccharides as a non-replicative pathogen) alters the social responses of healthy nestmates toward the treated individuals. Furthermore, treated individuals expressed significant differences in overall cuticular hydrocarbon profiles compared with controls. Finally, coating healthy individuals with extracts containing cuticular hydrocarbons of immunostimulated individuals significantly increased the agonistic responses of nestmates.

Conclusion

Since cuticular hydrocarbons play a critical role in nestmate recognition and other social interactions in a wide variety of insect species, modulation of such chemical profiles by the activation of the immune system could play a crucial role in the social regulation of pathogen dissemination within the colony.