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Brain Behav Immun. 2008 Aug;22(6):833-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2008.01.010. Epub 2008 Mar 10.

Social management of LPS-induced inflammation in Formica polyctena ants.

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DESCO, Faculté des Sciences et Techniques, Parc de Grandmont, 37200 Tours, France.


Invertebrates, and especially insects, constitute valuable and convenient models for the study of the evolutionary roots of immune-related behaviors. With stable conditions in the nest, high population densities, and frequent interactions, social insects such as ants provide an excellent system for examining the spread of pathogens. The evolutionary success of these species raises questions about the behavioral responses of social insects to an infected nestmate. In this experiment, we tested the behavioral changes of the red wood ant Formica polyctena toward an immune-stimulated nestmate. We used bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharides, LPS) to active the innate immune system of individual worker ants without biasing our observation with possible cues or host-manipulation from a living pathogen. We show that LPS-induced immune activation in ants triggers behavioral changes in nestmates. Contrary to what would be expected, we did not find removal strategies (e.g. agonistic behaviors) or avoidance of the pathogenic source, but rather a balance between a limitation of pathogen dissemination (i.e. decreased trophallaxis and locomotion of the LPS-treated ant), and what could constitute the behavioral basis for a "social vaccination" (i.e. increased grooming). This supports the importance of social interactions in resistance to disease in social insects, and perhaps social animals in general.

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