I’m sure there’s no significance at all in the timing of this story… As the somewhat excitable BBC science report’s headline has it – “Sex-starved fruit flies turn to drink”
In an article in Science, researchers suggest that alcohol stimulates the flies’ brains as a “reward” in a similar way to sexual conquest.
The work points to a brain chemical called neuropeptide F, which seems to be regulated by the flies’ behaviour.
Human brains have a similar chemical, which may react in a similar way.
The connection between alcohol and this chemical, which in humans is known as neuropeptide Y, has already been noted in studies involving hard-drinking mice.
They do note a caveat
It is tempting, given that humans share a similar brain chemical, to imagine that NPF drives human behaviour as well.
However, in an accompanying article in Science, Troy Zars of the University of Missouri wrote that “anthropomorphising the results from flies is difficult to suppress, but the relevance to human behaviour is obviously not yet established”.
And the Irish Times hosts a New York Times report on the study
The study suggests that some elements of the brain’s reward system have changed very little during evolution, and these include some of the mechanisms that support addiction. Levels of a brain chemical that is active in regulating appetite predicted the flies’ thirst for alcohol. A similar chemical is linked to drinking in humans.
Scientists have long known that other species have their methods of stress reduction. In lab studies, mice, rats and monkeys drink more after periods of isolation, studies suggest; the same is true of mice that are bullied or are victims of aggression.
“Reading this study is like looking back in time, to see the very origins of the reward circuit that drives fundamental behaviours like sex, eating and sleeping,” said Dr Markus Heilig, the clinical director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Dr Heilig, who was not involved in the research, said that the findings also supported new approaches to treating alcohol dependence. Researchers are investigating several compounds aimed at blunting alcohol cravings.
I hesitate to suggest that there might be a more obvious approach to the problem than the chemical one [Pass the corkscrew… – Ed].