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EMBO Rep. 2011 Mar;12(3):238-43. doi: 10.1038/embor.2011.9. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

Histone deacetylase inhibitor activity in royal jelly might facilitate caste switching in bees.

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Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Park Road 1C, Smithville, Texas 78957, USA.


Worker and queen bees are genetically indistinguishable. However, queen bees are fertile, larger and have a longer lifespan than their female worker counterparts. Differential feeding of larvae with royal jelly controls this caste switching. There is emerging evidence that the queen-bee phenotype is driven by epigenetic mechanisms. In this study, we show that royal jelly--the secretion produced by the hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands of worker bees--has histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) activity. A fatty acid, (E)-10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10HDA), which accounts for up to 5% of royal jelly, harbours this HDACi activity. Furthermore, 10HDA can reactivate the expression of epigenetically silenced genes in mammalian cells. Thus, the epigenetic regulation of queen-bee development is probably driven, in part, by HDACi activity in royal jelly.

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