Measuringinotocin receptorgene expression in chronological order in ant queens
In vertebrates and invertebrates, oxytocin/vasopressin-like peptides modulate a variety of behaviors. The recent discovery of the gene and receptor sequences of inotocin, the insect ortholog of oxytocin/vasopressin, opens new opportunities for understanding the role of this peptide family in regulating behaviors in the most populated class of living animals. Ants live in highly organized colonies. Once a year, they produce future queens that soon leave the nest to mate and found new colonies. During the first months of their lives, ant queens display a sequence of behaviors ranging from copulation and social interactions to violent fighting. In order to investigate the potential roles of inotocin in shaping queen behavior, we measured gene expression of the inotocin receptor in the heads of Lasius niger ant queens at different points in time. The highest levels of expression occurred early in queen life when they experience crowded conditions in their mother nests and soon thereafter set out to mate. Inotocin could thus be involved in regulating social and reproductive behaviors as reported in other animals. While oxytocin and vasopressin are also involved in aggression in mammals, we found no direct link between these behaviors and inotocin receptor expression in L. niger. Our study provides a first glimpse into the roles the inotocin receptor might play in regulating important processes in ant physiology and behavior. Further studies are needed to understand the molecular function of this complex signaling system in more detail.