Overwintering conditions impact insulin pathway gene expression in diapausing Megachile rotundata

Lizzette D. Cambron, George E. Yocum, Kathleen M. Yeater, Kendra J. Greenlee

Diapause is a non-feeding state that many insects undergo to survive the winter months. With fixed resources, overall metabolism and insulin signaling (IIS) are maintained at low levels, but whether those change in response to seasonal temperature fluctuations remains unknown. The focus of this study was to determine 1) how genes in the insulin signaling pathway vary throughout diapause and 2) if that variation changes in response to temperature. To test the hypothesis that expression of IIS pathway genes vary in response to temperature fluctuations during overwintering, alfalfa leafcutting bees, Megachile rotundata, were overwintered at either a constant 4 °C in the lab or in naturally fluctuating temperatures in the field. Expression levels of genes in the IIS pathway, cell cycle regulators, and transcription factors were measured. Overall our findings showed that a few key targets of the insulin signaling pathway, along with growth regulators, change during overwintering, suggesting that only cell cycle regulators, and not the IIS pathway as a whole, change across the phases of diapause. To answer our second question, we compared gene expression levels between temperature treatments at each month for a given gene. We observed significantly more differences in expression of IIS pathway targets, indicating that overwintering conditions impact insulin pathway gene expression and leads to altered expression profiles. With differences seen between temperature treatment groups, these findings indicate that constant temperatures like those used in agricultural storage protocols, lead to different expression profiles and possibly different diapause phenotypes for alfalfa leafcutting bees.

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