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J Exp Biol. 2011 Dec 1;214(Pt 23):3977-84. doi: 10.1242/jeb.061499.

IRS and TOR nutrient-signaling pathways act via juvenile hormone to influence honey bee caste fate.

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School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.


Regardless of genetic makeup, a female honey bee becomes a queen or worker depending on the food she receives as a larva. For decades, it has been known that nutrition and juvenile hormone (JH) signaling determine the caste fate of the individual bee. However, it is still largely unclear how these factors are connected. To address this question, we suppressed nutrient sensing by RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated gene knockdown of IRS (insulin receptor substrate) and TOR (target of rapamycin) in larvae reared on queen diet. The treatments affected several layers of organismal organization that could play a role in the response to differential nutrition between castes. These include transcript profiles, proteomic patterns, lipid levels, DNA methylation response and morphological features. Most importantly, gene knockdown abolished a JH peak that signals queen development and resulted in a worker phenotype. Application of JH rescued the queen phenotype in either knockdown, which demonstrates that the larval response to JH remains intact and can drive normal developmental plasticity even when IRS or TOR transcript levels are reduced. We discuss our results in the context of other recent findings on honey bee caste and development and propose that IRS is an alternative substrate for the Egfr (epidermal growth factor receptor) in honey bees. Overall, our study describes how the interplay of nutritional and hormonal signals affects many levels of organismal organization to build different phenotypes from identical genotypes.

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