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Queen pheromone modulates brain dopamine function in worker honey bees

PNAS, 13 February 2007
Vol. 104, Issue 7, p. 2460-2464
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0608224104

Queen pheromone modulates brain dopamine function in worker honey bees

  1. Kyle T. Beggs *,
  2. Kelly A. Glendining *,
  3. Nicola M. Marechal *,
  4. Vanina Vergoz *,
  5. Ikumi Nakamura *,
  6. Keith N. Slessor , , and
  7. Alison R. Mercer * , §
  1. *Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand; and
  2. Department of Chemistry, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6
  1. Edited by Gene E. Robinson, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL, and approved December 18, 2006 (received for review September 19, 2006)


Honey bee queens produce a sophisticated array of chemical signals (pheromones) that influence both the behavior and physiology of their nest mates. Most striking are the effects of queen mandibular pheromone (QMP), a chemical blend that induces young workers to feed and groom the queen and primes bees to perform colony-related tasks. But how does this pheromone operate at the cellular level? This study reveals that QMP has profound effects on dopamine pathways in the brain, pathways that play a central role in behavioral regulation and motor control. In young worker bees, dopamine levels, levels of dopamine receptor gene expression, and cellular responses to this amine are all affected by QMP. We identify homovanillyl alcohol as a key contributor to these effects and provide evidence linking QMP-induced changes in the brain to changes at a behavioral level. This study offers exciting insights into the mechanisms through which QMP operates and a deeper understanding of the queen's ability to regulate the behavior of her offspring.

  • Apis mellifera
  • biogenic amines
  • neuroethology
  • neuromodulation
  • pheromonal communication


  • §To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: alison.mercer{at}
  • Author contributions: K.T.B., K.A.G., N.M.M., V.V., and I.N. contributed equally to this work; K.T.B., K.A.G., and A.R.M. designed research; K.T.B., K.A.G., N.M.M., V.V., I.N., and A.R.M. performed research; K.N.S. contributed new reagents and analytic tools; K.T.B., K.A.G., N.M.M., V.V., and I.N. analyzed data; and A.R.M. wrote the paper.

  • Present address: 10105 Rolley Crescent, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada V2W IJ9.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS direct submission.

  • Abbreviations:
    queen mandibular pheromone;
    homovanillyl alcohol;
    methyl p-hydroxybenzoate;


K. T. Beggs, K. A. Glendining, N. M. Marechal, V. Vergoz, I. Nakamura, K. N. Slessor, and A. R. Mercer, Queen pheromone modulates brain dopamine function in worker honey bees. PNAS 104, 2460-2464 (2007).

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