DNA methylation changes elicited by social stimuli in the brains of worker honey bees



Social environments are notoriously multifactorial, yet studies in rodents have suggested that single variables such as maternal care can in fact be disentangled and correlated with specific DNA methylation changes. This study assesses whether non-detrimental social environmental variation in a highly plastic social insect is correlated with epigenomic modifications at the DNA methylation level. Honey bee workers perform tasks such as nursing and foraging in response to the social environment in the hive, in an age-linked but not age-dependent manner. In this study, the methylation levels of 83 cytosine–phosphate–guanosine dinucleotides over eight genomic regions were compared between the brains of age-matched bees performing nursing or foraging tasks. The results reveal more changes correlated with task than with chronological age, and also hive-associated methylation at some sites. One methylation site from a gene encoding Protein Kinase C binding protein 1 was consistently more methylated in foragers than nurses, which is suggested to lead to production of task-specific protein isoforms via alternative splicing. This study illustrates the ability of the neural epigenome to dynamically respond to complex social stimuli.