28 September 2022

Haiyang GENG – PhD defense

"Molecular analyses of visual processing and learning in honey bees"

Presentation in english

Supervisors : Isabelle Massou and Martin Giurfa

Comitee members :

  • M. Claudio LAZZARI (Université de Tours) – Reviewer
  • Mme Emmanuelle JACQUIN-JOLY (INRAE iEES – Paris) – Reviewer
  • M. Cédric ALAUX (INRAE Avignon) – Examiner
  • Mme Isabelle MASSOU (Research Centre of Animal Cognition) – Thesis co-supervisor
  • M. Martin GIURFA (Research Centre of Animal Cognition) – Thesis co-supervisor

Abstract :

Honey bees are endowed with the capacity of color vision as they possess three types of photoreceptors in their retina that are maximally sensitive in the ultraviolet, blue and green domains owing to the presence of corresponding opsin types. While the behavioral aspects of color vision have been intensively explored based on the easiness by which free-flying bee foragers are trained to color stimuli paired with sucrose solution, the molecular underpinnings of this capacity have been barely explored. Here, to fill this void, we explore opsin properties and gene expression changes in the bee brain, during color learning and retention in controlled laboratory protocols.

We characterized opsin distribution in the honey bee visual system, focusing on the presence of two types of green opsins (Amlop1 and Amlop2), one of which (Amlop2) was discovered upon sequencing of the bee genome. We confirmed that Amlop1 is present in ommatidia of the compound eye but not in the ocelli, while Amlop2 is confined to the ocelli. We developed a CRISPR/Cas9 approach to determine possible functional differences between these opsins. We successfully created Amlop1 and Amlop2 adult mutant bees by means of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology and we also produced white-gene mutants as a control for the efficiency of our method. We tested our mutants using a conditioning protocol in which bees learn to inhibit attraction to chromatic light based on electric-shock punishment (Icarus protocol). White and Amlop2 mutants learned to inhibit spontaneous attraction to blue light while Amlop1 mutants failed to do so. These results indicate that responses to blue light, which is also partially sensed by green receptors, are mediated mainly by compound-eye photoreceptors containing Amlop1 but not by the ocellar system in which photoreceptors contain Amlop2. Accordingly, 24 hours later, white and Amlop2 mutants exhibited an aversive memory for the punished color that was comparable to control bees but Amlop1 mutants exhibited no such memory. We discuss these findings based on controls with eyes or ocelli covered by black paint and interpret our results in the context of chromatic vs. achromatic vision via the compound eyes and the ocelli, respectively.

Finally, we analyzed immediate early gene (IEG) expression in specific areas of the bee brain following color vision learning in a virtual reality (VR) environment. We changed the degrees of freedom of this environment and subjected bees to a 2D VR, in which only lateral movements of the stimuli were possible and to a 3D VR which provided a more immersive perception. We analyzed levels of relative expression of three IEGs (kakuseiHr38, and Egr1) in the calyces of the mushroom bodies, the optic lobes and the rest of the brain after color discrimination learning. In the 3D VR, successful learners exhibited Egr1 upregulation only in the calyces of the mushroom bodies, thus uncovering a privileged involvement of these brain regions in associative color learning. Yet, in the 2D VR, Egr1 was downregulated in the OLs while Hr38 and kakusei were coincidently downregulated in the calyces of the MBs in the group that learned. Although both VR scenarios point towards specific activations of the calyces of the mushroom bodies (and of the visual circuits in the 2D VR), the difference in the type of expression detected suggests that the different constraints of the two VRs may lead to different kinds of neural phenomena. While 3D VR scenarios allowing for navigation and exploratory learning may lead to IEG upregulation, 2D VR scenarios in which movements are constrained may induce higher levels of inhibitory activity in the bee brain. Overall, we provide a series of new explorations of the visual system, including new functional analyses and the development of novel methods to study opsin function, which advances our understanding of honey bee vision and visual learning.

Keywords: Vision, Visual Learning, Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), Opsin Genes, Photoreceptors, CRISPR/Cas9, Inhibition of Color Attraction, Virtual Reality, Brain, IEG expression, Mushroom Bodies, Optic Lobes.


28 September 2022, 14h0017h00
IRIT (Institut de Recherche en Informatique de Toulouse)
Conference room (first floor)