Protein tied to Alzheimers also plays key role in honeybees

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. A protein targeted by drug treatments in some patients with Alzheimers disease also appears to play an important role in honeybees (Apis melifera), researchers say.

U.S. and Israeli scientists led by Gene E. Robinson of the University of Illinois report that forager bees, which work outside the hive collecting nectar and pollen, have lower activity levels of the acetylcholingesterase (AChE) protein in their brains than do younger nurse bees.

AChE is an enzyme that breaks down a primary neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine (ACh). Neurons use ACh to communicate with one another. In the human body, ACh signals muscle movement, and, in the brain, it is linked to learning and memory. In many Alzheimers patients, researchers have noted a loss of neurons that secrete ACh. One treatment is the use of an AChE inhibitor. The scientists, reporting in a recent issue of the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, showed that the reduction of AChE protein activity is the result of the down regulation of the AChE gene.

A reduction in AChE activity might mean that foragers, which among honeybees lead the most challenging life, have enhanced ACh neurotransmission, said Robinson, a professor of entomology and neuroscience. He speculated that enhanced ACh neurotransmission in foragers, as in humans, may improve cognitive performance.

Honeybees live in a social world known for its distinct division of labor based on age-specific tasks. They begin their adult life working inside the hive as sanitation workers and nursemaids, among other roles. They then shift to foraging outside the hive when they are about 3 weeks old. The shift to foraging requires the learning of new skills, many revolving around vision and smell.

AChE accounts for almost all of the cholinesterase activity in the brain of a honeybee, suggesting that this particular protein may regulate major aspects of cholinergetic activity, Robinson said. While the bi

Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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