The circuits in the brain that mediate our perception of reward, known collectively as the """"""""reward system,"""""""" couple pleasure with the essentials of life: food and reproduction. The reward system also lies at the root of some of the most tragic, harmful, and costly behaviors in our society. These include addiction to substances of abuse, obesity-related behavior, dangerous thrill seeking behavior, and aberrant sexual behavior. Research that I performed on altruistic behavior in honey bees has led me to a new insight about the reward system. Finding that the same neurochemical system that modulates selfish behavior in solitary insects modulates altruistic behavior in the highly social honey bee, I conclude that not only is the reward system vulnerable to """"""""hijacking""""""""- -coupling to stimuli with negative consequences-- over the course of a lifetime as mentioned above, but it also is vulnerable to hijacking in evolutionary time. I propose to use 'omic technologies (high-throughput sequencing, transcriptomics, epigenomics, proteomics, and metabolomics) to understand in molecular terms how to """"""""flip"""""""" the reward system, from selfish to altruistic behavior. These analyses will be performed on a carefully selected set of closely related species of bees, some social (with altruistic behavior) and some solitary (without). The insights gained from this novel synthesis of systems biology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology will transform our understanding of drug addiction and other diseases of the reward system and provide the foundation for new forms of therapeutic intervention.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Office of The Director, National Institutes of Health (OD)
NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (NDPA) (DP1)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZGM1-NDPA-B (02))
Program Officer
Wehrle, Janna P
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Organized Research Units
United States
Zip Code
Naeger, Nicholas L; Robinson, Gene E (2016) Transcriptomic analysis of instinctive and learned reward-related behaviors in honey bees. J Exp Biol 219:3554-3561
McNeill, M S; Kapheim, K M; Brockmann, A et al. (2016) Brain regions and molecular pathways responding to food reward type and value in honey bees. Genes Brain Behav 15:305-17
Peso, Marianne; Even, Naïla; Søvik, Eirik et al. (2016) Physiology of reproductive worker honey bees (Apis mellifera): insights for the development of the worker caste. J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol 202:147-58
Liu, Hui; Robinson, Gene E; Jakobsson, Eric (2016) Conservation in Mammals of Genes Associated with Aggression-Related Behavioral Phenotypes in Honey Bees. PLoS Comput Biol 12:e1004921
Kapheim, Karen M; Pan, Hailin; Li, Cai et al. (2015) Social evolution. Genomic signatures of evolutionary transitions from solitary to group living. Science 348:1139-43
Shpigler, Hagai Y; Robinson, Gene E (2015) Laboratory Assay of Brood Care for Quantitative Analyses of Individual Differences in Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Affiliative Behavior. PLoS One 10:e0143183
Kapheim, Karen M; Rao, Vikyath D; Yeoman, Carl J et al. (2015) Caste-specific differences in hindgut microbial communities of honey bees (Apis mellifera). PLoS One 10:e0123911
Chandrasekaran, S; Rittschof, C C; Djukovic, D et al. (2015) Aggression is associated with aerobic glycolysis in the honey bee brain(1). Genes Brain Behav 14:158-66
Khamis, Abdullah M; Hamilton, Adam R; Medvedeva, Yulia A et al. (2015) Insights into the Transcriptional Architecture of Behavioral Plasticity in the Honey Bee Apis mellifera. Sci Rep 5:11136
Sadd, Ben M; Barribeau, Seth M; Bloch, Guy et al. (2015) The genomes of two key bumblebee species with primitive eusocial organization. Genome Biol 16:76

Showing the most recent 10 out of 24 publications