Brain gene expression analyses in virgin and mated queens of fire ants reveal mating-independent and socially regulated changes.
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Transcriptomes of dissected brains from virgin alate and dealate mated queens from polygyne fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) were analyzed and compared. Thirteen genes were upregulated in mated queen brain, and nine were downregulated. While many of the regulated genes were either uncharacterized or noncoding RNAs, those annotated genes included two hexamerin proteins, astakine neuropeptide, serine proteases, and serine protease inhibitors. We found that for select differentially expressed genes in the brain, changes in gene expression were most likely driven by the changes in physiological state (i.e., age, nutritional status, or dominance rank) or in social environment (released from influence of primer pheromone). This was concluded because virgins that dealated after being separated from mated queens showed similar patterns of gene expression in the brain as those of mated queens for hexamerin 1, astakine, and XR_850909. Abaecin (XR_850725), however, appears upregulated only after mating. Therefore, our findings contribute to distinguish how specific gene networks, especially those influenced by queen primer pheromone, are regulated in queen ants. Additionally, to identify brain signaling pathways, we mined the fire ant genome and compiled a list of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The expression level of GPCRs and other genes in the "genetic toolkit" in the brains of virgin alates and mated dealate queens is reported.