Fly larvae fed on alcohol-spiked food for a period of days grow dependent on those spirits for learning. The findings, reported in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on November 29th, show how overuse of alcohol can produce lasting changes in the brain, even after alcohol abuse stops.
The report also provides evidence that the very human experience of alcoholism can be explored in part with studies conducted in fruit flies and other animals, the researchers say.
"Our evidence supports the long-ago proposed idea that functional ethanol tolerance is produced by adaptations that counter the effects of ethanol, and that these adaptations help the nervous system function more normally when ethanol is present," says Brooks Robinson of The University of Texas at Austin. "However, when ethanol is withheld, the adaptations persist to give the nervous system abnormal properties that manifest themselves as symptoms of withdrawal."
Robinson and his colleagues found that alcohol consumption, at a level equivalent to mild intoxication in humans, at first impeded learning by fly larvae. More specifically, those larvae had some trouble in associating an unpleasant heat pulse with an otherwise attractive odor in comparison to larvae that had not been drinking alcohol.
After a six-day drinking binge, however, those larvae adapted and could learn as well as normal larvae could. In fact, the alcohol-adapted animals learned poorly when their ethanol was taken away from them. And, when given alcohol back, their learning deficit was erased.
Robinson says that the findings are the first proof of cognitive ethanol dependence in an invertebrate, suggesting that some of ethanol's ability to change behavior must begin at the cellular level. After all, flies and humans share many of the same features at the level of individual neurons, and not so much in terms of the way those neurons are put together into working circuits.
The study also shows that the "responses to ethanol that addict and plague us" have a very long evolutionary history, Robinson says. And that means that genetic analysis in flies might yield some very important answers.
Robinson et al.: "Neural Adaptation Leads to Cognitive Ethanol Dependence."
Cell Press: http://www.cellpress.com
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
South Africa has begun testing a humane way to make its beaches safer
There used to be rhinos in North America. In fact, they originated on the continent. The earliest ones …
James Watson is to sell the Nobel Prize medal he won for the discovery of the structure of DNA.
An international team of more than 100 researchers has mapped the genome of the centipede and found that, while it easily outpaces humans on number of legs, it falls short when it comes to genes.
The tech giant has created a utensil to make mealtime easier for people with Parkinson's disease and essential tremors
The brain has a weak spot for Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia, according to experts who have pinpointed the region using scans.
Scientists in California have captured the elusive anglerfish on film in its natural habitat, 1,900 feet below sea level
Researchers were shocked to discover multiple instances of seal-on-penguin rape
The tiny shrimp survive without sunlight and crawl within an inch of boiling hot waters
Birds are one of the most widely studied forms of life on the planet. And, there are still new species out there to discover — as one young researcher found recently in a forest in Indonesia.