Royalactin is a glycoprotein essential for the development of long-lived queen honeybees. Only larvae fed with royal jelly, containing royalactin, develop into queens. Royalactin plays a central role in this process by switching on the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor signaling pathway which ultimately leads to epigenetic changes and a long-lived queen phenotype. Recently it was shown that royalactin by itself also extends lifespan in Drosophila melanogaster. Yet, the mechanism by which royalactin promotes longevity remains largely unknown.
We set out to characterize the effects of royalactin on Caenorhabditis elegans lifespan, and clarify the possible involvement of EGF signaling in this process. We demonstrate that royalactin extends lifespan of this nematode and that both EGF (LIN-3) and its receptor (LET-23) are essential to this process. To our knowledge, this is the first report of royalactin-mediated lifespan extension in a non-insect species. Additionally, we show that royalactin enhances locomotion in adult nematodes, implying that royalactin also influences healthspan.
Our results suggest that royalactin is an important lifespan-extending factor in royal jelly and acts by promoting EGF signaling in C. elegans. Further work will now be needed to clarify which (secondary) signaling pathways are activated by royalactin, and how this ultimately translates into an extended health- and lifespan.