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Histone acetylation regulates the expression of genes involved in worker reproduction and lifespan in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus
  • Marina Choppin,
  • Barbara Feldmeyer,
  • Susanne Foitzik
Marina Choppin
Johannes Gutenberg Universitat Mainz
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Barbara Feldmeyer
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F)
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Susanne Foitzik
University of Mainz
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In insect societies, the queen monopolizes reproduction while workers perform tasks such as brood care or foraging. Queen loss leads to ovary development and lifespan extension in workers from many ants. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms of this phenotypic plasticity remain unclear. Recent studies highlight the importance of epigenetics in regulating plastic traits in social insects. We investigated the role of histone acetylation in the regulation of worker reproduction in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus. We removed queens from their colonies to induce worker fecundity, and either fed workers with chemical inhibitors of histone acetylation (C646), deacetylation (Trichostatin A), or the solvent (DMSO) as control. We monitored worker number for six weeks after which we assessed ovary development and sequenced fat body mRNA. Workers survived better in queenless colonies and developed their ovaries after queen removal in control colonies as expected, but not in colonies treated with chemical inhibitors. Both inhibitors affected gene expression, although the inhibition of histone acetylation using C646 influenced the expression of more genes with immunity, fecundity, and longevity functionalities. Interestingly, these C646-treated workers shared many upregulated genes with infertile workers from queenright colonies. We also identified one gene with antioxidant properties commonly downregulated in infertile workers from queenright colonies and both C646 and TSA-treated workers from queenless colonies. Our results indicate that histone acetylation is involved in the molecular regulation of worker reproduction and lifespan, and thus point to an important role of histone modifications in modulating phenotypic plasticity of life history traits in social insects.