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While studying male fruit flies, researchers discovered that sexually deprived flies will consume more alcohol than sexually satisfied male flies and that the flies’ behavior changes as the levels of neuropeptide F in the brain change.
Sexually deprived male fruit flies exhibit a pattern of behavior that seems ripped from the pages of a sad-sack Raymond Carver story: when female fruit flies reject their sexual advances, the males are driven to excessive alcohol consumption, drinking far more than comparable, sexually satisfied male flies.
The new work may help shed light on the brain mechanisms that make social interaction rewarding for animals and those that underlie human addiction. A similar human molecule, called neuropeptide Y, may likewise connect social triggers to behaviors like excessive drinking and drug abuse. Adjusting the levels of neuropeptide Y in people may alter their addictive behavior—which is exactly what the UCSF team observed in the fruit flies.
“If neuropeptide Y turns out to be the transducer between the state of the psyche and the drive to abuse alcohol and drugs, one could develop therapies to inhibit neuropeptide Y receptors,” said Ulrike Heberlein, PhD, a Professor of Anatomy and Neurology at UCSF, who led the research.
Clinical trials are underway, she added, to test whether delivery of neuropeptide Y can alleviate anxiety and other mood disorders as well as obesity.