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

Gyan Harwood, Gro Amdam, Dalial Freitak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-100
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of insect physiology
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Bacteria
  • Histology
  • Honey bee
  • Immunity
  • Transport
  • Vitellogenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science


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