Hormonal control of the yolk precursor vitellogenin regulates immune function and longevity in honeybees

Gro V. Amdam, Zilá L.P. Simões, Arne Hagen, Kari Norberg, Knut Schrøder, Øyvind Mikkelsen, Thomas B.L. Kirkwood, Stig W. Omholt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

270 Scopus citations


A striking example of plasticity in life span is seen in social insects such as ants and bees, where different castes may display distinct ageing patterns. In particular, the honeybee offers an intriguing illustration of environmental control on ageing rate. Honeybee workers display a temporal division of labour where young bees (or 'hive bees') perform tasks within the brood nest, and older bees forage for nectar, pollen propolis and water. When bees switch from the hive bee to the forager stage, their cellular defence machinery is down-regulated by a dramatic reduction in the number of functioning haemocytes (immunocytes). This study documents that the yolk precursor vitellogenin is likely to be involved in a regulatory pathway that controls the observed decline in somatic maintenance function of honeybee foragers. An association between the glyco-lipoprotein vitellogenin and immune function has not previously been reported for any organism. Honeybee workers are functionally sterile, and via the expression of juvenile hormone, a key gonotrophic hormone in adult insects, their vitellogenin levels are influenced by social interactions with other bees. Our results therefore suggest that in terms of maintenance of the cellular immune system, senescence of the honeybee worker is under social control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-773
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Gerontology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Apis mellifera
  • Apoptosis
  • Immune suppression
  • Juvenile hormone
  • Longevity
  • Vitellogenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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