Age-dependent transcriptional and epigenomic responses to light exposure in the honey bee brain

Nils Becker, Robert Kucharski, Wolfgang Roessler, Ryszard Maleszka

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17 Citations (Scopus)
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Light is a powerful environmental stimulus of special importance in social honey bees that undergo a behavioral transition from in-hive to outdoor foraging duties. Our previous work has shown that light exposure induces structural neuronal plasticity in the mushroom bodies (MBs), a brain center implicated in processing inputs from sensory modalities. Here, we extended these analyses to the molecular level to unravel light-induced transcriptomic and epigenomic changes in the honey bee brain. We have compared gene expression in brain compartments of 1- and 7-day-old light-exposed honey bees with age-matched dark-kept individuals. We have found a number of differentially expressed genes (DEGs), both novel and conserved, including several genes with reported roles in neuronal plasticity. Most of the DEGs show age-related changes in the amplitude of light-induced expression and are likely to be both developmentally and environmentally regulated. Some of the DEGs are either known to be methylated or are implicated in epigenetic processes suggesting that responses to light exposure are at least partly regulated at the epigenome level. Consistent with this idea light alters the DNA methylation pattern of bgm, one of the DEGs affected by light exposure, and the expression of microRNA miR-932. This confirms the usefulness of our approach to identify candidate genes for neuronal plasticity and provides evidence for the role of epigenetic processes in driving the molecular responses to visual stimulation. To gain insights into environmentally-stimulated structural brain plasticity we have investigated light-induced molecular changes in brains of honey bees whose adult maturation is driven by a dark-light behavioral transition. We show that both gene expression and DNA methylation are affected by light exposure suggesting a combined contribution of the transcriptome and epigenome to brain plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-639
Number of pages18
JournalFEBS Open Bio
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


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