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J Insect Physiol. 2019 Jan;112:90-100. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2018.12.006. Epub 2018 Dec 19.

The role of Vitellogenin in the transfer of immune elicitors from gut to hypopharyngeal glands in honey bees (Apis mellifera).

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School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85281 USA. Electronic address:
School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85281 USA; Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, N-1432 Aas, Norway.
Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland; Institute of Biology, Division of Zoology, University of Graz, A8010 Graz, Austria.


Female insects that survive a pathogen attack can produce more pathogen-resistant offspring in a process called trans-generational immune priming. In the honey bee (Apis mellifera), the egg-yolk precursor protein Vitellogenin transports fragments of pathogen cells into the egg, thereby setting the stage for a recruitment of immunological defenses prior to hatching. Honey bees live in complex societies where reproduction and communal tasks are divided between a queen and her sterile female workers. Worker bees metabolize Vitellogenin to synthesize royal jelly, a protein-rich glandular secretion fed to the queen and young larvae. We ask if workers can participate in trans-generational immune priming by transferring pathogen fragments to the queen or larvae via royal jelly. As a first step toward answering this question, we tested whether worker-ingested bacterial fragments can be transported to jelly-producing glands, and what role Vitellogenin plays in this transport. To do this, we fed fluorescently labelled Escherichia coli to workers with experimentally manipulated levels of Vitellogenin. We found that bacterial fragments were transported to the glands of control workers, while they were not detected at the glands of workers subjected to RNA interference-mediated Vitellogenin gene knockdown, suggesting that Vitellogenin plays a role in this transport. Our results provide initial evidence that trans-generational immune priming may operate at a colony-wide level in honey bees.


Bacteria; Histology; Honey bee; Immunity; Transport; Vitellogenin

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