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Title: Time-course RNASeq of Camponotus floridanus forager and nurse ant brains indicate links between plasticity in the biological clock and behavioral division of labor
Abstract Background

Circadian clocks allow organisms to anticipate daily fluctuations in their environment by driving rhythms in physiology and behavior. Inter-organismal differences in daily rhythms, called chronotypes, exist and can shift with age. In ants, age, caste-related behavior and chronotype appear to be linked. Brood-tending nurse ants are usually younger individuals and show “around-the-clock” activity. With age or in the absence of brood, nurses transition into foraging ants that show daily rhythms in activity. Ants can adaptively shift between these behavioral castes and caste-associated chronotypes depending on social context. We investigated how changes in daily gene expression could be contributing to such behavioral plasticity inCamponotus floridanuscarpenter ants by combining time-course behavioral assays and RNA-Sequencing of forager and nurse brains.


We found that nurse brains have three times fewer 24 h oscillating genes than foragers. However, several hundred genes that oscillated every 24 h in forager brains showed robust 8 h oscillations in nurses, including the core clock genesPeriodandShaggy. These differentially rhythmic genes consisted of several components of the circadian entrainment and output pathway, including genes said to be involved in regulating insect locomotory behavior. We also found thatVitellogenin, known to regulate division of labor in social insects, showed robust 24 h oscillations in nurse brains more » but not in foragers. Finally, we found significant overlap between genes differentially expressed between the two ant castes and genes that show ultradian rhythms in daily expression.


This study provides a first look at the chronobiological differences in gene expression between forager and nurse ant brains. This endeavor allowed us to identify a putative molecular mechanism underlying plastic timekeeping: several components of the ant circadian clock and its output can seemingly oscillate at different harmonics of the circadian rhythm. We propose that such chronobiological plasticity has evolved to allow for distinct regulatory networks that underlie behavioral castes, while supporting swift caste transitions in response to colony demands. Behavioral division of labor is common among social insects. The links between chronobiological and behavioral plasticity that we found inC. floridanus, thus, likely represent a more general phenomenon that warrants further investigation.

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BMC Genomics
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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