ABSTRACT

Visual learning is vital to the behavioral ecology of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera). Honey bee workers forage for floral resources, a behavior that requires the learning and long-term memory of visual landmarks, but how these memories are mapped to the brain remains poorly understood. To address this gap in our understanding, we collected bees that successfully learned visual associations in a conditioned aversion paradigm and compared gene expression correlates of memory formation in the mushroom bodies, a higher-order sensory integration center classically thought to contribute to learning, as well as the optic lobes, the primary visual neuropil responsible for sensory transduction of visual information. We quantified expression of CREB and CaMKII, two classical genetic markers of learning, and fen-1, a gene specifically associated with punishment learning in vertebrates. As expected, we found substantial involvement of the mushroom bodies for all three markers but additionally report the involvement of the optic lobes across a similar time course. Our findings imply the molecular involvement of a sensory neuropil during visual associative learning parallel to a higher-order brain region, furthering our understanding of how a tiny brain processes environmental signals.

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