Ants, as eusocial insects, exhibit some of the most fascinating and complex programs of social behavior in animals, wherein physiologically-distinct individuals use cooperative behaviors such as nursing, foraging, nest maintenance, defense and policing to sustain colony homeostasis. This division of labor is a central feature of advanced forms of sociality and often involves the allocation of behaviors among phenotypically distinct groups of individuals (termed castes) that vary by morphology, age and social context. Our lab is interested in epigenetic mechanisms that establish, sustain, and modulate caste-based division of behavior, using the evolutionarily divergent ants Camponotus floridanus and Harpegnathos saltator as model systems. Our early work in this field produced the first genome-wide map of histone modifications in two distinct worker castes of the ant Camponotus floridanus, and identified the histone acetyl transferase (HAT) and transcriptional co-activator CREB Binding Protein (CBP) as an important regulator of caste specific differences in histone modification patterning and downstream gene expression in the brain. More recently, we have shown that experimental manipulation of HATs and histone deacetylases (HDACs) can reprogram the behavior of ant castes and sustain atypical behavioral programs in a stable manner for more than a month after treatment. This indicates that HATs and HDACs are important enzymatic partners in the dynamic regulation of behavioral programming achieved through the gene expression programs that alter the structure and function of nervous systems. Our current projects focus on understanding how chromatin factors contribute to critical periods of behavioral plasticity during early adult life, as well as the closing of such critical periods later in life.
Yan H, Opachaloemphan C, Mancini G, Yang H, Gallitto M, Mlejnek J, Leibholz A, Haight K, Ghaninia M, Huo L, Perry M, Slone J, Zhou X, Traficante M, Penick CA, Dolezal K, Gokhale K, Stevens K, Fetter-Pruneda I, Bonasio R, Zwiebel LJ, Berger SL, Liebig J, Reinberg D, Desplan C. Cell. 2017 Aug 10;170(4):736-747.
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