Transcriptional identification of differentially expressed genes associated with division of labor in Apis cerana cerana

Yi Jie Chen, Ying Jiao Li, Shuang Wu, Wen Chao Yang, Jing Miao, Shao Hua Gu, Jiang Hong Li, Xiao Qing Miao, Xianchun Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Workers of Apis cerana cerana undergo an in-hive nursing to outdoor foraging transition, but the genes underlying this age-related transition remain largely unknown. Here, we sequenced the head transcriptomes of its 7-day-old normal nurses, 18- and 22-day-old normal foragers, 7-day-old precocious foragers and 22-day-old over-aged nurses to unravel the genes associated with this transition. Mapping of the sequence reads to Apis mellifera genome showed that the three types of foragers had a greater percentage of reads from annotated exons and intergenic regions, whereas the two types of nurses had a greater percentage of reads from introns. Pair- and group-wise comparisons of the five transcriptomes revealed 59 uniquely expressed genes (18 in nurses and 41 in foragers) and 14 nurse- and 15 forager-upregulated genes. The uniquely expressed genes are usually low-abundance long noncoding RNAs, transcription factors, transcription coactivators, RNA-binding proteins, kinases or phosphatases that are involved in signaling and/or regulation, whereas the nurse- or forager-upregulated genes are often high-abundance downstream genes that directly perform the tasks of nurses or foragers. Taken together, these results suggest that the nurse-forager transition is coordinated by a social signal-triggered epigenetic shift from introns to exons/intergenic regions and the resulting transcriptional shift between the nurse- and forager-associated genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-471
Number of pages15
JournalInsect Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • behavioral transition
  • epigenetic shift
  • lncRNA
  • over-aged nurses
  • precocious foragers
  • signaling genes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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