Older Honeybees Can Reverse Brain Aging

Older honeybees can successfully reverse brain aging when they do things in the hive that are usually done by much younger bees. This was discovered by researchers from the US and Norway. These findings could mean that age-related dementia in humans could also be slowed down or treated by social interventions. 

The study, led by Professor Gro Amdam, was published in the journal Experimental Gerontology. It showed that a simple trick could change the molecular structure of the brain of older foraging bees.

Professor Amdam said,

“We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae — the bee babies — they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them, however, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function — basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, ‘What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?”

The Experiment

For the experiment, all the younger bees were removed from the hive. Only the queen and the brood were left. When the older foraging bees returned, they noticed a decreased activity in the hive. This lasted for a few days. However, within a short period of time the older bees had organized themselves. While some of the older bees returned to their foraging duty, the others continued to care for the brood. This also shows that bees are smart, they have the ability to plan ahead.


50% of the older bees that continued caring for the brood had a change of protein in their brains. After 10 days they significantly improved their ability to learn new things. The first protein was identified as Prx6, which is also found in humans as a potential protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s. The second protein was a¨chaperone¨ protein. This protein protects other proteins from damage when brain- or other tissues are exposed to cellular stress levels. 

Research continues for new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, although it could be many years before an effective drug is created. Amdam said,

“Maybe social interventions — changing how you deal with your surroundings — is something we can do today to help our brains stay younger. Since the proteins being researched in people are the same proteins bees have, these proteins may be able to spontaneously respond to specific social experiences.”

So the myth that kids keep you young is true for many – at least in the world of bees! Several studies prove that an active social life also keep human brains fitter for longer.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Arizona State UniversityNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Nicholas Baker, Florian Wolschin, Gro V. Amdam. Age-related learning deficits can be reversible in honeybees Apis melliferaExperimental Gerontology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.exger.2012.05.011

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