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Reproduction and immunity in ant queens: Reproduction et immunité chez les reines de fourmis

Ants and other social Hymenoptera (social bees and wasps) have a remarkable mating strategy. Social Hymenoptera live in societies where reproduction is monopolized by a fertile caste consisting of males and queens. On the other hand, the logistical tasks of the colony are carried out by a sterile female caste known as workers. Reproductive individuals mate during a single bout early in their life and will never engage in additional reproductive events later on. Males die soon after mating while queens store millions of sperm cells in a specialized organ, the spermatheca. Queens will use this sperm stock to fertilize eggs during the rest of their life that can last up to several decades. With a record of 28.5 years in the black garden ant, ant queens have the longest lifespan recorded to date among the social Hymenoptera. In my thesis, I addressed three aspects of ant queen reproduction. First, I tested the effect of mating on the expression of several genes involved namely in fecundity, longevity and immunity. I found that mating induces an up-regulation of the yolk precursor vitellogenin and of the antimicrobial peptide defensin. Second, I measured the intensity of different immune responses in male and queen genital organs in order to determine which immune pathways are activated to protect sperm. Antimicrobial peptide genes are expressed in the genital tract of both sexes and the queen spermatheca is capable of strongly inhibiting bacterial growth. The immune melanization response is, however, overall inactive in the organs tested probably because its unspecific mode of action and cytotoxic by-products are likely to damage sperm cells. Immunity thus seems to be closely regulated in organs that are in contact with sperm. Third, I determined if activation of the queen immune system had an impact on the survival of sperm stored in the spermatheca. There is no detectable effect in young newly mated queens whereas, in one year old queens, immune activation induces a significant reduction in sperm viability. Life stage thus seems to influence queen ability to preserve sperm viability in the event of an immune challenge. In addition, one year old queens have higher sperm viability than newly mated queens suggesting queens are able to displace dead sperm cells from their spermatheca. Finally, I relied on the well-established sequence of behaviors inherent to the early life of ant queens to try to uncover the largely unknown roles of inotocin, the insect ortholog of the vertebrate hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, in regulating insect behavior. I measured gene expression of the inotocin receptor and found that it is highly expressed during social and reproductive behaviors, which is consistent with previous results in vertebrates. Inotocin might thus also be involved in modulating these behaviors in insects, but further studies are needed to be able to fully understand this complex signaling system. Overall, I show that reproduction and immunity are closely linked in ant queens and that the latter provide promising models for investigating the roles of hormones in insects. / Doctorat en Sciences / info:eu-repo/semantics/nonPublished
Date01 March 2019
CreatorsCherasse, Sarah
ContributorsAron, Serge, Gueydan, Cyril, Lybaert, Pascale, Nieberding, Caroline, Sundström, Liselotte
PublisherUniversite Libre de Bruxelles, Université libre de Bruxelles, Faculté des Sciences – Sciences biologiques, Bruxelles
Source SetsUniversité libre de Bruxelles
Detected LanguageEnglish
Typeinfo:eu-repo/semantics/doctoralThesis, info:ulb-repo/semantics/doctoralThesis, info:ulb-repo/semantics/openurl/vlink-dissertation
Format3 full-text file(s): application/pdf | application/pdf | application/pdf
Rights3 full-text file(s): info:eu-repo/semantics/closedAccess | info:eu-repo/semantics/restrictedAccess | info:eu-repo/semantics/openAccess

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