Termites are highly eusocial insects and show a division of labor whereby morphologically distinct individuals specialize in distinct tasks. In the lower termite Reticulitermes flavipes(Rhinotermitidae), non-reproducing individuals form the worker and soldier castes, which specialize in helping (e.g., brood care, cleaning, foraging) and defense behaviors, respectively. Workers are totipotent juveniles that can either undergo status quo molts or develop into soldiers or neotenic reproductives. This caste differentiation can be regulated by juvenile hormone (JH) and primer pheromones contained in soldier head extracts (SHE). Here we offered worker termites a cellulose diet treated with JH or SHE for 24-hr, or held them with live soldiers (LS) or live neotenic reproductives (LR). We then determined gene expression profiles of the host termite gut and protozoan symbionts concurrently using custom cDNA oligo-microarrays containing 10,990 individual ESTs.


JH was the most influential treatment (501 total ESTs affected), followed by LS (24 ESTs), LR (12 ESTs) and SHE treatments (6 ESTs). The majority of JH up- and downregulated ESTs were of host and symbiont origin, respectively; in contrast, SHE, LR and LS treatments had more uniform impacts on host and symbiont gene expression. Repeat “follow-up” bioassays investigating combined JH + SHE impacts in relation to individual JH and SHE treatments on a subset of array-positive genes revealed (i) JH and SHE treatments had opposite impacts on gene expression and (ii) JH + SHE impacts on gene expression were generally intermediate between JH and SHE.


Our results show that JH impacts hundreds of termite and symbiont genes within 24-hr, strongly suggesting a role for the termite gut in JH-dependent caste determination. Additionally, differential impacts of SHE and LS treatments were observed that are in strong agreement with previous studies that specifically investigated soldier caste regulation. However, it is likely that gene expression outside the gut may be of equal or greater importance than gut gene expression.


This is the publisher pdf of Sen, R., Raychoudhury, R., Cai, Y., Sun, Y., Lietze, V.U., Boucias, D.G., Scharf, M.E. 2013. Differential impacts of juvenile hormone, soldier head extract and alternate caste phenotypes on host and symbiont gene expression in the gut of the termite Reticulitermes flavipes. BMC Genomics 14: 491. and is available at: 10.1186/1471-2164-14-491.


Metagenomics; Soldier head extract; Microarray; Caste differentiation; Live soldier; Live reproductive

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