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Sperm storage and antioxidative enzyme expression in the honey bee, Apis mellifera


Jay D. Evans, USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory, BARC-East Bldg. 476, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA. Tel.: +1 301 504 5143; fax: +1 301 504 8736; e-mail:


Honey bee (Apis mellifera) sperm remains viable in the spermatheca of mated female honey bees for several years. During this time, the sperm retains respiratory activity, placing it at risk of the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species common to many biological processes. Antioxidative enzymes might help reduce this damage. Here we use quantitative real-time RT-PCR to establish gene-expression profiles in male and female honey bee reproductive tissues for three antioxidative enzymes: catalase, glutathione-S-transferase (GST) and superoxide dismutase (SOD1, cytosolic). Catalase and GST showed ten- to twenty-fold transcript increases in the sperm storage organs of mated queens vs. unmated queens, whereas SOD1 levels are high in both mated and unmated queens. Male reproductive and somatic tissues showed relatively high levels of all three antioxidant-encoding transcripts. All three enzymes screened were higher in mature males vs. young males, although this effect did not appear to be confined to reproductive tissues and, hence, need not reflect a role in sperm longevity. Furthermore, antioxidative enzyme transcripts remained present, and apparently increased, in male tissues long after sperm had matured and seminal fluid was produced. We also found measurable levels of catalase transcripts in honey bee semen. The presence of catalase transcripts in both reproductive tissues and semen in bees suggests that this enzyme might play a key role in antioxidative protection.

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