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Exp Gerontol. 2012 Oct;47(10):764-72. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2012.05.011. Epub 2012 May 22.

Age-related learning deficits can be reversible in honeybees Apis mellifera.

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School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.


Many animals are characterized by declining brain function at advanced ages, including honeybees (Apis mellifera). Variation in honeybee social development, moreover, results in individual differences in the progression of aging that may be accelerated, delayed, and sometimes reversed by changes in behavior. Here, we combine manipulations of social development with a measurement of sensory sensitivity, Pavlovian (associative) learning, and a proteomic technique to study the brain of aged honeybees. First, we confirm that sensory sensitivity can remain intact during aging, and that age-associated learning deficits are specific to bees that forage, a behavior typically expressed after a period of nursing activity. These initial data go beyond previous findings by showing how foragers age in social groups of different age compositions and sizes. Thereafter, we establish that learning ability can recover in aged foragers that revert to nursing tasks. Finally, we use liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS(2)) to describe proteomic differences between central brains, from reverted former foragers that varied in recovery of learning performance, and from nurse bees that varied in learning ability but never foraged. We find that recovery is positively associated with levels of stress response/cellular maintenance proteins in the central brain, while variation in learning before aging is negatively associated with the amounts of metabolic enzymes in the brain tissue. Our work provides the strongest evidence, thus far, for reversibility of learning deficits in aged honeybees, and indicates that recovery-related brain plasticity is connected to cellular stress resilience, maintenance and repair processes.

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