Bee Brain Plasticity: Turning Back the Clock on Aging
A forager honeybee collecting nectar. Credit: Jon Sullivan
The honeybee brain is dynamic and full of surprises. For instance, much like the human brain, its neurons not only modulate their activity in response to sensory stimuli but also alter their gene and protein expression patterns - changes that in bees are so dramatic as to essentially rewire the brain. And even more remarkable is that this plasticity is strongly influenced by social environment, a feature that was underscored recently by the discovery that bees who changed social roles effectively reversed the aging of their brains.
The reversal, described in terms of recovery of learning ability, occurred when older honeybees reverted from foraging tasks to caring for newborn bees and was linked to increased brain levels of stress response and antioxidant proteins, which serve important cellular maintenance and repair functions. One of the proteins was similar to the mammalian enzyme peroxiredoxin-6 (Prx6). In humans, Prx6 defends against oxidative stress and inflammation associated with Alzheimer disease and Huntington disease, indicating that a better understanding of the molecules involved in brain plasticity and cognitive recovery in honeybees could inform research on dementia and related conditions.
The new findings are especially intriguing for what they suggest about the influence of social environment on cognitive function. Studies in humans have linked strong social relationships with increased likelihood for survival and declining social engagement in mid- to late-life with increasing risk of dementia. However, relatively little is known about the significance of social environment in the context of human cognitive function and aging. ...