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Adv Genet. 2012;77:1-32. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-387687-4.00001-5.

Social influences on circadian rhythms and sleep in insects.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel.


The diverse social lifestyle and the small and accessible nervous system of insects make them valuable for research on the adaptive value and the organization principles of circadian rhythms and sleep. We focus on two complementary model insects, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, which is amenable to extensive transgenic manipulations, and the honey bee Apis mellifera, which has rich and well-studied social behaviors. Social entrainment of activity rhythms (social synchronization) has been studied in many animals. Social time givers appear to be specifically important in dark cavity-dwelling social animals, but here there are no other clear relationships between the degree of sociality and the effectiveness of social entrainment. The olfactory system is important for social entrainment in insects. Little is known, however, about the molecular and neuronal pathways linking olfactory neurons to the central clock. In the honey bee, the expression, phase, and development of circadian rhythms are socially regulated, apparently by different signals. Peripheral clocks regulating pheromone synthesis and the olfactory system have been implicated in social influences on circadian rhythms in the fruit fly. An enriched social environment increases the total amount of sleep in both fruit flies and honey bees. In fruit flies, these changes have been linked to molecular and neuronal processes involved in learning, memory, and synaptic plasticity. The studies on insects suggest that social influences on the clock are richer than previously appreciated and have led to important breakthroughs in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying social influences on sleep and circadian rhythms.

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