Background: Honey bees are exposed to phytochemicals through the nectar, pollen and propolis consumed to sustain the colony. They may also encounter mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus fungi infesting pollen in beebread. Moreover, bees are exposed to agricultural pesticides, particularly in-hive acaricides used against the parasite Varroa destructor. They cope with these and other xenobiotics primarily through enzymatic detoxificative processes, but the regulation of detoxificative enzymes in honey bees remains largely unexplored.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We used several approaches to ascertain effects of dietary toxins on bee susceptibility to synthetic and natural xenobiotics, including the acaricide tau-fluvalinate, the agricultural pesticide imidacloprid, and the naturally occurring mycotoxin aflatoxin. We administered potential inducers of cytochrome P450 enzymes, the principal biochemical system for Phase 1 detoxification in insects, to investigate how detoxification is regulated. The drug phenobarbital induces P450s in many insects, yet feeding bees with phenobarbital had no effect on the toxicity of taufluvalinate, a pesticide known to be detoxified by bee P450s. Similarly, no P450 induction, as measured by tau-fluvalinate tolerance, occurred in bees fed xanthotoxin, salicylic acid, or indole-3-carbinol, all of which induce P450s in other insects.
Only quercetin, a common pollen and honey constituent, reduced tau-fluvalinate toxicity. In microarray comparisons no change in detoxificative gene expression was detected in phenobarbital-treated bees. However, northern blot analyses of guts of bees fed extracts of honey, pollen and propolis showed elevated expression of three CYP6AS P450 genes. Diet did not influence tau-fluvalinate or imidacloprid toxicity in bioassays; however, aflatoxin toxicity was higher in bees consuming sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup than in bees consuming honey.
Conclusions/Significance: These results suggest that regulation of honey bee P450s is tuned to chemicals occurring naturally in the hive environment and that, in terms of toxicological capacity, a diet of sugar is not equivalent to a diet of honey.
Main message: Honey diet promotes better detoxification of poisons in honeybees than sugar diet - except for imidacloprid and tau-fluvalinate
Some findings on imidacloprid:
"Like most other insects, honey bees rely in part on a suite of detoxification enzymes to metabolize naturally occurring xenobiotics and pesticides. Chief among these enzymes are the cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450) . P450s play a role in the detoxification of phytochemicals  present in the nectar, honey and pollen that bees consume [8–10]."
"To determine whether as-yet unidentified phytochemicals in honey function as inducers, an additional set of toxicity bioassays was conducted. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose syrup are commonly used in commercial apiculture . Neither supplemental carbohydrate source contains the suite of plant secondary compounds that are present in nectar and honey and that may be important in P450 regulation."
"We examined the phenomenon of P450 induction in honey bees using two different approaches after the administration of chemicals that induce P450s in other organisms—by testing for functional evidence of induction by assaying tolerance of toxic compounds, and by measuring changes in P450 transcript abundance in response to candidate inducers. In the toxicity assays, we examined adult workers for the in vivo effects of putative inducers on the LD50 of pesticides known to interact with P450s. The toxicity of two pyrethroid pesticides detoxified by P450s in bees, tau-fluvalinate  and lambda-cyhalothrin , and two pesticides bioactivated by P450 activity in honey bees, imidacloprid  and aldrin , was assessed using this approach."
"Bees were also fed sucrose, HFCS, or honey candy and treated topically with three doses of tau-fluvalinate  (3, 5 and 10 micro gram) or imidacloprid  (0.005, 0.01 and 0.03 micro gram) ranging between the LD25 and the LD50. All trials included an acetone control, and no mortality was observed in any control bees."
"In assays conducted to determine the ability of different diets (sucrose, HFCS, or honey) to induce P450s, one-way analysis of variance revealed no significant differences in tau-fluvalinate or imidacloprid toxicity to bees based on diet. Thus, there are apparently no constituents of honey that induce P450s that either detoxify or bioactivate these two pesticides."
"Non-honey diets significantly decreased the ability of honey bees to tolerate the natural toxin aflatoxin B1 yet had no measurable effect on toxicity of the synthetic toxins tau-fluvalinate and imidacloprid."
"When a bee encounters a novel xenobiotic, such as the in-hive acaricides or imidacloprid, with which it has not coevolved, these synthetic compounds may not activate the same molecular pathways as are activated by naturally occurring xenobiotics in hive products."
Johnson RM, Mao W, Pollock HS, Niu G, Schuler MA, et al. (2012) Ecologically Appropriate Xenobiotics Induce Cytochrome P450s in Apis mellifera. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31051. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031051