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Honey bees on cocaine dance more, changing ideas about the insect brain
Date:12/22/2008

ower quality of food. This fact led Robinson to wonder whether octopamine also influenced the waggle dance, a behavior unique to foraging honey bees. In an earlier study, Robinson found that foragers have higher levels of octopamine in the brain than all other bees in the hive.

In a study published in 2007, Robinson and his colleagues reported that treatment with octopamine caused foraging honey bees to dance more often. This indicated that octopamine played a role in honey bee dance behavior. It also suggested a framework for understanding the evolution of altruistic behavior, Robinson said.

"The idea behind that study was that maybe this mechanism that structures selfish behavior eating was co-opted during social evolution to structure social behavior that is, altruistic behavior," he said. "So if you're selfish and you're jacked up on octopamine, you eat more, but if you're altruistic you don't eat more but you tell others about it so they can also eat."

But it was not even known if insects have a bona fide reward system. That question led the researchers to study the effects of cocaine on honey bee behavior. Cocaine a chemical used by the coca plant to defend itself from leaf-eating insects interferes with octopamine transit in insect brains and has undeniable effects on reward systems in mammals, including humans. It does this by influencing the chemically related dopamine system.

Dopamine plays a role in the human ability to predict and respond to pleasure or reward. It is also important to motor function and modulates many other functions, including cognition, sleep, mood, attention and learning.

One aspect of reward in the human brain involves altruistic behavior, Robinson said. Thinking about or performing an altruistic act has been found to excite the pleasure centers of the human brain.

"There are various lines of thought that indicate that one way of structuring society is to have altruistic beh
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Contact: Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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