Understanding the genetic make-up of fruit flies could be a key to treating addiction, according to research.
Genetics are thought to play a huge role in the development of alcohol use disorders — the genetic contribution to these conditions could be as high as 60%.
Now, scientists say they have discovered a gene that regulates how molecules respond to alcohol and have indicated it may help experts come up with new ways of treating those affected by alcohol abuse and addiction.
Researchers say the gene, Rsu1, is “pivotal” in affecting naïve and acquired preferences to alcohol, in both humans and in flies.
They found that flies lacking the protein made by Rsu1 had a high preference for alcohol. Those exposed to alcohol also displayed behaviours similar to those of humans.
Low doses of alcohol caused a lack of inhibition and increased locomotor activity while higher doses led to a loss of postural control followed by sedation.
The flies also displayed addiction-like behaviour similar to mammals.
The study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Prof Adrian Rothenfluh of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
The group also included Dr Arun Bokde, an assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin’s School of Medicine and at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience.
“The same gene in two different organisms is associated with alcohol behaviours. In this particular study the animal results led to the discovery of the influence of this gene in humans,” said Dr Bokde.
“This study underscores the need to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning alcohol-related behaviours in humans. Knowing how these pathways work gives us some hope that we might design treatments to interact with the cellular pathways responsible for affecting our alcohol preferences.”
The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
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