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J Exp Biol. 2013 May 1;216(Pt 9):1638-49. doi: 10.1242/jeb.078915.

Aging and its modulation in a long-lived worker caste of the honey bee.

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Department of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1432 Ås, Norway.


Highly social animals provide alternative aging models in which vastly different lifespan patterns are flexible, and linked to social caste. Research in these species aims to reveal how environment, including social cues, can shape the transition between short-lived and extremely long-lived phenotypes with negligible senescence. Among honey bee workers, short to intermediate lifespans are typical for summer castes, while the winter caste can live up to 10 times longer. For summer castes, experimental interventions could predictably accelerate, slow or revert functional senescence. In contrast, little is known about the partic ular conditions under which periods of negligible senescence in winter castes can be disrupted or sustained. We asked how manipulation of social environment in colonies with long-lived winter bees might alter the pace of functional senescence, measured as learning performance, as well as of cellular senescence, measured as lipofuscin accumulation. We show that behavioral senescence becomes rapidly detectable when the winter state is disrupted, and changes in social task behaviors and social environment (brood) are induced. Likewise, we found that cellular senescence was induced by such social intervention. However, cellular senescence showed marked regional differences, suggesting that particular brain regions age slower than others. Finally, by preventing post-winter colonies from brood rearing, behavioral senescence became undetectable, even after transition to the usually short-lived phenotypes had occurred. We envision that social regulation of negligible functional senescence and highly dynamic accumulation of a universal symptom of cellular aging (lipofuscin) offers rewarding perspectives to target proximate mechanisms of slowed aging.

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