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Rejected fruit flies use alcohol to cope

Fruit flies that haven't mated recently are more likely to ingest alcohol, according to a recent study.

In this undated image provided by the University of California San Francisco, a male fruit fly drinks alcohol-laced food from from a tube. In the Friday, March 16, 2012 issue of the journal Science, researchers say sexually deprived male fruit flies are driven to excessive alcohol consumption, drinking far more than comparable, sexually satisfied male flies.

AP Photo/University of California, San Francisco, G. Ophir

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Chronically sex-deprived fruit flies will take refuge in booze, while just-mated flies are more likely to take a pass on the alcohol, new research suggests.

The alcoholic tendencies of the chronically rejected flies seem to be a result of decreased levels of a brain chemical called neuropeptide F (NPF), which researchers think plays a role in the fly's reward system.

When the fly does something that would be good for it evolutionarily, such as mating or eating food, an internal mechanism increases NPF levels. But NPF also can be turned up by outside factors, including alcohol. (Flies have no trouble finding alcohol, which is created by their favorite food: yeast on rotting fruit.)

"What we discovered was an interplay between internal rewards and external rewards," said study researcher Galit Shohat-Ophir of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus, in Virginia. She did the research as a part of the Ulrike Heberlein's lab there.

"There's some kind of system in the brain, which we think NPF is regulating, that represents the level of internal reward. If there is perturbation in the level of NPF in the brain, there are behaviors that will return the levels back to normal," Shohat-Ophir told LiveScience.


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