Larval Exposure to Parasitic Varroa destructor Mites Triggers Specific Immune Responses in Different Honey Bee Castes and Species

Fang, Yu, et al. “Larval exposure to parasitic Varroa destructor mites triggers specific immune responses in different honey bee castes and species.” Molecular & Cellular Proteomics 21.8 (2022).


Innate immune systems are key defenses of animals and particularly important in species that lack the sophisticated adaptive immune systems as found in vertebrates. Here, we were interested to quantify variation in innate immune responses of insects in hosts that differ in their parasite susceptibility. To do this, we studied immune responses in honey bees, which can host a remarkable number of different parasites, which are major contributors of declining bee health and colony losses. The most significant parasite of honey bees is the mite Varroa destructor, which has infested the majority of global honey bee populations, and its control remains a major challenge for beekeepers. However, a number of nonmanaged honey bees seem able to control Varroa infections, for example, the Eastern honey bee Apis cerana cerana or the African honey bee Apis mellifera scutellata. These bees therefore make interesting study subjects to identify underlaying resistance traits, for example, by comparing them to more susceptible bee genotypes such as Western honey bees (A. mellifera ligustica). We conducted a series of interlinked experiments and started with behavioral assays to compare the attractiveness of bee larvae to mites using different honey bee genotypes and castes. We found that 6-day-old larvae are always most attractive to mites, independently of genotype or castes. In a next step, we compared volatile profiles of the most attractive larvae to test whether they could be used by mites for host selection. We found that the abundance of volatile compounds differed between larval ages, but we also found significant differences between genotypes and castes. To further study the expected underlaying physiological differences between potentially resistant and susceptible host larvae, we compared the larval hemolymph proteomes of the three honey bee genotypes and two castes in response to mite exposure. We identified consistent upregulation of immune and stress-related genes in Varroa-exposed larvae, which differed between genotypes and castes. Tolerant honey bee castes and genotypes were characterized by stronger or more distinct immune esponses. In summary, we provide first insights into the complex involvement of the innate immune system of tolerant honey bees against mite infestations, which could be used for future breeding purposes.