Alcoholism & Addiction

Fruit Flies Make Optimal Study Subjects in Alcohol Consumption Research

When a person is addicted to alcohol, given the opportunity to consume it is likely to produce drinking at levels as high as desired. According to recent research, the same can be said about fruit flies.

Science Daily recently posted a release that examined a study conducted by Ulrike Heberlein of the University of California, San Francisco. Heberlein has been studying the genes underlying alcohol response and addiction with the use of fruit flies for years.

"The flies choose to consume alcohol to intoxicating levels, they will do so even if alcohol is made unpalatable, and they relapse to drinking high levels of alcohol after being deprived of it," said Heberlein. "Addiction is a purely human condition, but, surprisingly, flies show several key features of it."

While Heberlein has been a strong believer in the fly as a useful model of human conditions, even she was amazed to find that fruit flies will make such complex decisions when to comes to alcohol.

This team of researchers determined that fruit flies prefer to consume ethanol-containing food over regular food and this preference increased over time. And, while the flies are attracted to the smell of the alcohol, they don’t actually like its taste.

Still, the flies self-administer ethanol to intoxicating levels and will put aside their aversion to particular tastes or smells in order to consume it. At the same time, they will rapidly return to high levels of ethanol consumption after a period of imposed abstinence.

"Previously, we studied simple behaviors, such as intoxication and development of tolerance," Heberlein said. "This work opens the door for us to study much more complex alcohol-related behaviors, such as ‘use despite adverse consequences’ and ‘relapse.’"


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