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The caste-specific regulation of vitellogenin synthesis in the honeybee represents a problem with many yet unresolved details. We carried out experiments to determine when levels of vitellogenin are first detected in hemolymph of female castes of Apis mellifera, and whether juvenile hormone and ecdysteroids modulate this process. Vitellogenin levels were measured in hemolymph using immunological techniques. We show that in both castes the appearance of vitellogenin in the hemolymph occurs during the pupal period, but the timing was different in the queen and worker. Vitellogenin appears in queens during an early phase of cuticle pigmentation approximately 60h before eclosion, while in workers the appearance of vitellogenin is more delayed, initiating in the pharate adult stage, approximately 10h before eclosion. The timing of vitellogenin appearance in both castes coincides with a slight increase in endogenous levels of juvenile hormone that occurs at the end of pupal development. The correlation between these events was corroborated by topical application of juvenile hormone. Exogenous juvenile hormone advanced the timing of vitellogenin appearance in both castes, but caste-specific differences in timing were maintained. Injection of actinomycin D prevented the response to juvenile hormone. In contrast, queen and worker pupae that were treated with ecdysone showed a delay in the appearance of vitellogenin. These data suggest that queens and workers share a common control mechanism for the timing of vitellogenin synthesis, involving an increase in juvenile hormone titers in the presence of low levels of ecdysteroids.
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