The antibacterial protein lysozyme identified as the termite egg recognition pheromone

Kenji Matsuura, Takashi Tamura, Norimasa Kobayashi, Toshihisa Yashiro, Shingo Tatsumi

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63 Citations (Scopus)


Social insects rely heavily on pheromone communication to maintain their sociality. Egg protection is one of the most fundamental social behaviours in social insects. The recent discovery of the termite-egg mimicking fungus 'termite-ball' and subsequent studies on termite egg protection behaviour have shown that termites can be manipulated by using the termite egg recognition pheromone (TERP), which strongly evokes the egg-carrying and -grooming behaviours of workers. Despite the great scientific and economic importance, TERP has not been identified because of practical difficulties. Herein we identified the antibacterial protein lysozyme as the TERP. We isolated the target protein using ion-exchange and hydrophobic interaction chromatography, and the MALDI-TOF MS analysis showed a molecular size of 14.5 kDa, We found that the TERP provided antibacterial activity against a gram-positive bacterium. Among the currently known antimicrobial proteins, the molecular size of 14.5 kDa limits the target to lysozyme. Termite hysozymes obtained from eggs, and salivary glands, and even hen egg lysozyme, showed a strong termite egg recognition activity. Besides eggs themselves, workers also supply lysozyme to eggs through frequent egg-grooming, which egg surfaces are coated with saliva containing lysozyme. Reverse transcript PCR analysis showed that mRNA of termite Iysozyme was expressed in both salivary glands and eggs-Western blot analysis confirmed that lysozyme production begins in immature eggs in queen ovaries. This is the first identigation of proteinaceous pheromone in social insects. Researchers have focused almost exclusively on hydrocarbons when searching for recognition pheromones in social Insects. The present finding of a proteinaceous pheromone represents a major step forward in, and results illuminates The profound influence of pathogenic microbes on the evolution of social behaviour in termites.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere813
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 29 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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