COLUMBIA, Mo. – After being deprived of sex, male fruit flies, known as Drosophila melanogaster, may turn to alcohol to fulfill a physiological demand for a reward, according to a study recently published in the journal Science. Troy Zars, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri and neurobiology expert, said that understanding why rejected male flies find solace in ethanol could help treat human addictions.
"Identifying the molecular and genetic mechanisms controlling the demand for reward in fruit flies could potentially influence our understanding of drug and alcohol abuse in humans, since previous studies have detailed similarities between signaling pathways in fruit flies and mammals," Zars said.
In the study, male fruit flies that had mated repeatedly for several days showed no preference for alcohol-spiked food. On the other hand, spurned males and those denied access to females strongly preferred food mixed with 15 percent alcohol. The researchers believed the alcohol may have satisfied the flies' desire for physical reward.
Zars said the new discovery could lead to greater understanding of the relationship between the social and physical causes of substance abuse in humans.
"The authors provide new insights into a neural circuit that links a rewarding social interaction with a lasting change in behavior preference," Zars said.
Zars has been a faculty member at MU since 2002. He leads investigations of the molecular and systems level mechanisms of behavioral genetics in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. He is well known for his experiments identifying molecular mechanisms and neural circuits that support behaviors in the relatively simple fly brain. His work has been published in leading scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Current Biology, Learning and Memory, and Neuron.
Previously, Zars received the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Post-doctoral Fellowship to investigate the molecular mechanisms of behavioral plasticity with Prof. Martin Heisenberg at the University of Wuerzburg, Germany.