Sex-starved fruit flies turn to booze

A male fruit fly is seen here drinking alcohol. (G. Ophir/UCSF/HO)

A male fruit fly is seen here drinking alcohol. (G. Ophir/UCSF/HO)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 PM ET

Much like their human counterparts, male fruit flies turn to booze when they're rejected by females, according to a new study that could have implications for people with mood disorders and addictions.

Experiments by researchers at the University of California San Francisco showed that, given the choice between alcohol-laced or plain food, the jilted flies opted for alcohol. Furthermore, they binged, drinking far more than their sexually satisfied counterparts.

The change in behaviour corresponded with a change in the level of a molecule called neuropeptide F in their brains: Lower levels cause them to seek "alternative rewards," the researchers said, whereas the higher levels caused by mating seemed to keep them satisfied and sober.

The value of the research, they said, may be in treating drug and alcohol addiction in humans.

"The human version of neuropeptide F, called neuropeptide Y, may work similarly, connecting socially rewarding experiences to behaviours like binge drinking," the researchers said, pointing out that neuropeptide Y levels are known to be lower in people who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder -- conditions that are also known to predispose people toward excessive alcohol and drug abuse.

The study's lead author, Ulrike Heberlein, said clinical trials are underway to test whether manipulating neuropeptide Y levels can alleviate anxiety and other mood disorders, as well as obesity.

However, any new therapies are years away, because of the complexity of the human brain.

The findings are published Friday in the journal Science.

 


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