A new study indicates that 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.