A lipocalin protein, Neural Lazarillo, is key to social interactions that promote termite soldier differentiation

Hajime Yaguchi, Shuji Shigenobu, Yoshinobu Hayashi, Satoshi Miyazaki, Kouhei Toga, Yudai Masuoka, Kiyoto Maekawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Social communication among castes is a crucial component of insect societies. However, the genes involved in soldier determination through the regulation of inter-individual interactions are largely unknown. In an incipient colony of the damp-wood termite Zootermopsis nevadensis, the first larva to develop into a third instar always differentiates into a soldier via frequent trophallactic feeding from the reproductives. Here, by performing RNA-seq analysis of third instar larvae, a homologue of Neural Lazarillo (named ZnNLaz1) was found to be the most differentially expressed gene in these soldier-destined larvae, compared with worker-destined larvae. This gene encodes a lipocalin protein related to the transport of small hydrophobic molecules. RNAi-induced knockdown of ZnNLaz1 significantly inhibited trophallactic interactions with the queen and decreased the soldier differentiation rates. This protein is localized in the gut, particularly in the internal wall, of soldier-destined larvae, suggesting that it is involved in the integration of social signals from the queen through frequent trophallactic behaviours. Based on molecular phylogenetic analysis, we suggest that a novel function of termite NLaz1 has contributed to social evolution from the cockroach ancestors of termites. These results indicated that a high larval NLaz1 expression is crucial for soldier determination through social communication in termites.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180707
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1883
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul 25


  • Caste differentiation
  • Juvenile hormone
  • Queen
  • Transcriptome
  • Trophallaxis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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