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03/16/12 | Sexual deprivation increases ethanol intake in Drosophila.
Shohat-Ophir G, Kaun KR, Azanchi R, Mohammed H, Heberlein U
Science. 2012 Mar 16;335(6074):1351-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1215932

The brain’s reward systems reinforce behaviors required for species survival, including sex, food consumption, and social interaction. Drugs of abuse co-opt these neural pathways, which can lead to addiction. Here, we used Drosophila melanogaster to investigate the relationship between natural and drug rewards. In males, mating increased, whereas sexual deprivation reduced, neuropeptide F (NPF) levels. Activation or inhibition of the NPF system in turn reduced or enhanced ethanol preference. These results thus link sexual experience, NPF system activity, and ethanol consumption. Artificial activation of NPF neurons was in itself rewarding and precluded the ability of ethanol to act as a reward. We propose that activity of the NPF-NPF receptor axis represents the state of the fly reward system and modifies behavior accordingly.

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06/09/11 | Arouser reveals a role for synapse number in the regulation of ethanol sensitivity.
Eddison M, Guarnieri DJ, Cheng L, Liu CH, Moffat KG, Davis G, Heberlein U
Neuron. 2011 Jun 9;70(5):979-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.03.030

A reduced sensitivity to the sedating effects of alcohol is a characteristic associated with alcohol use disorders (AUDs). A genetic screen for ethanol sedation mutants in Drosophila identified arouser (aru), which functions in developing neurons to reduce ethanol sensitivity. Genetic evidence suggests that aru regulates ethanol sensitivity through its activation by Egfr/Erk signaling and its inhibition by PI3K/Akt signaling. The aru mutant also has an increased number of synaptic terminals in the larva and adult fly. Both the increased ethanol sensitivity and synapse number of the aru mutant are restored upon adult social isolation, suggesting a causal relationship between synapse number and ethanol sensitivity. We thus show that a developmental abnormality affecting synapse number and ethanol sensitivity is not permanent and can be reversed by manipulating the environment of the adult fly.

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12/29/09 | Preferential ethanol consumption in Drosophila models features of addiction.
Devineni AV, Heberlein U
Current Biology. 2009 Dec 29;19(24):2126-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.10.070

Alcohol addiction is a common affliction with a strong genetic component [1]. Although mammalian studies have provided significant insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying ethanol consumption [2], other organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster are better suited for unbiased, forward genetic approaches to identify novel genes. Behavioral responses to ethanol, such as hyperactivity, sedation, and tolerance, are conserved between flies and mammals [3, 4], as are the underlying molecular pathways [5-9]. However, few studies have investigated ethanol self-administration in flies [10]. Here we characterize ethanol consumption and preference in Drosophila. Flies prefer to consume ethanol-containing food over regular food, and this preference increases over time. Flies are attracted to the smell of ethanol, which partially mediates ethanol preference, but are averse to its taste. Preference for consuming ethanol is not entirely explained by attraction to either its sensory or caloric properties. We demonstrate that flies can exhibit features of alcohol addiction. First, flies self-administer ethanol to pharmacologically relevant concentrations. Second, flies will overcome an aversive stimulus in order to consume ethanol. Third, flies rapidly return to high levels of ethanol consumption after a period of imposed abstinence. Thus, ethanol preference in Drosophila provides a new model for studying aspects of addiction.

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07/07/09 | Oviposition preference for and positional avoidance of acetic acid provide a model for competing behavioral drives in Drosophila.
Joseph RM, Devineni AV, King IFG, Heberlein U
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2009 Jul 7;106(27):11352-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0901419106

Selection of appropriate oviposition sites is essential for progeny survival and fitness in generalist insect species, such as Drosophila melanogaster, yet little is known about the mechanisms regulating how environmental conditions and innate adult preferences are evaluated and balanced to yield the final substrate choice for egg-deposition. Female D. melanogaster are attracted to food containing acetic acid (AA) as an oviposition substrate. However, our observations reveal that this egg-laying preference is a complex process, as it directly opposes an otherwise strong, default behavior of positional avoidance for the same food. We show that 2 distinct sensory modalities detect AA. Attraction to AA-containing food for the purpose of egg-laying relies on the gustatory system, while positional repulsion depends primarily on the olfactory system. Similarly, distinct central brain regions are involved in AA attraction and repulsion. Given this unique situation, in which a single environmental stimulus yields 2 opposing behavioral outputs, we propose that the interaction of egg-laying attraction and positional aversion for AA provides a powerful model for studying how organisms balance competing behavioral drives and integrate signals involved in choice-like processes.

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05/29/09 | Happyhour, a Ste20 family kinase, implicates EGFR signaling in ethanol-induced behaviors.
Corl AB, Berger KH, Ophir-Shohat G, Gesch J, Simms JA, Bartlett SE, Heberlein U
Cell. 2009 May 29;137(5):949-60. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2009.03.020

The consequences of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are devastating to individuals and society, yet few treatments are currently available. To identify genes regulating the behavioral effects of ethanol, we conducted a genetic screen in Drosophila and identified a mutant, happyhour (hppy), due to its increased resistance to the sedative effects of ethanol. Hppy protein shows strong homology to mammalian Ste20 family kinases of the GCK-1 subfamily. Genetic and biochemical experiments revealed that the epidermal growth factor (EGF)-signaling pathway regulates ethanol sensitivity in Drosophila and that Hppy functions as an inhibitor of the pathway. Acute pharmacological inhibition of the EGF receptor (EGFR) in adult animals altered acute ethanol sensitivity in both flies and mice and reduced ethanol consumption in a preclinical rat model of alcoholism. Inhibitors of the EGFR or components of its signaling pathway are thus potential pharmacotherapies for AUDs.

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10/06/06 | Distinct behavioral responses to ethanol are regulated by alternate RhoGAP18B isoforms.
Rothenfluh A, Threlkeld RJ, Bainton RJ, Tsai LTY, Lasek AW, Heberlein U
Cell. 2006 Oct 6;127(1):199-211. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2006.09.010

In most organisms, low ethanol doses induce increased activity, while high doses are sedating. To investigate the underlying mechanisms, we isolated Drosophila mutants with altered ethanol responsiveness. Mutations in white rabbit (whir), disrupting RhoGAP18B, are strongly resistant to the sedating effects of ethanol. This resistance can be suppressed by reducing the levels of Rho1 or Rac, implicating these GTPases in the behavioral response to ethanol. Indeed, expression of constitutively active forms of Rho1 or Rac1 in adult flies results in ethanol resistance similar to that observed in whir mutants. The whir locus produces several transcripts, RA-RD, which are predicted to encode three distinct RhoGAPs that share only the GAP domain. The RC transcript mediates the sedating effects of ethanol, while the RA transcript regulates its stimulant effects. Thus, distinct RhoGAPs, encoded by the same gene, regulate different manifestations of acute ethanol intoxication.

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10/07/05 | Moody encodes two GPCRs that regulate cocaine behaviors and blood-brain barrier permeability in Drosophila.
Bainton RJ, Tsai LTY, Schwabe T, DeSalvo M, Gaul U, Heberlein U
Cell. 2005 Oct 7;123(1):145-56. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2005.07.029

We identified moody in a genetic screen for Drosophila mutants with altered cocaine sensitivity. Hypomorphic mutations in moody cause an increased sensitivity to cocaine and nicotine exposure. In contrast, sensitivity to the acute intoxicating effects of ethanol is reduced. The moody locus encodes two novel GPCRs, Moody-alpha and Moody-beta. While identical in their membrane-spanning domains, the two Moody proteins differ in their long carboxy-terminal domains, which are generated by use of alternative reading frames. Both Moody forms are required for normal cocaine sensitivity, suggesting that they carry out distinct but complementary functions. Moody-alpha and Moody-beta are coexpressed in surface glia that surround the nervous system, where they are actively required to maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in the adult fly. We propose that a Moody-mediated signaling pathway functions in glia to regulate nervous system insulation and drug-related behaviors.

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08/11/05 | The hangover gene defines a stress pathway required for ethanol tolerance development.
Scholz H, Franz M, Heberlein U
Nature. 2005 Aug 11;436(7052):845-7. doi: 10.1038/nature03864

Repeated alcohol consumption leads to the development of tolerance, simply defined as an acquired resistance to the physiological and behavioural effects of the drug. This tolerance allows increased alcohol consumption, which over time leads to physical dependence and possibly addiction. Previous studies have shown that Drosophila develop ethanol tolerance, with kinetics of acquisition and dissipation that mimic those seen in mammals. This tolerance requires the catecholamine octopamine, the functional analogue of mammalian noradrenaline. Here we describe a new gene, hangover, which is required for normal development of ethanol tolerance. hangover flies are also defective in responses to environmental stressors, such as heat and the free-radical-generating agent paraquat. Using genetic epistasis tests, we show that ethanol tolerance in Drosophila relies on two distinct molecular pathways: a cellular stress pathway defined by hangover, and a parallel pathway requiring octopamine. hangover encodes a large nuclear zinc-finger protein, suggesting a role in nucleic acid binding. There is growing recognition that stress, at both the cellular and systemic levels, contributes to drug- and addiction-related behaviours in mammals. Our studies suggest that this role may be conserved across evolution.

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01/01/05 | Insulin signaling in the nervous system regulates ethanol intoxication in Drosophila melanogaster.
Corl AB, Rodan AR, Heberlein U
Nature Neuroscience. 2005 Jan;8(1):18-9. doi: 10.1038/nn1363

The insulin signaling pathway regulates multiple physiological processes, including energy metabolism, organismal growth, aging and reproduction. Here we show that genetic manipulations in Drosophila melanogaster that impair the function of insulin-producing cells or of the insulin-receptor signaling pathway in the nervous system lead to increased sensitivity to the intoxicating effects of ethanol. These findings suggest a previously unknown role for this highly conserved pathway in regulating the behavioral responses to an addictive drug.

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12/01/04 | Lmo mutants reveal a novel role for circadian pacemaker neurons in cocaine-induced behaviors.
Tsai LTY, Bainton RJ, Blau J, Heberlein U
PLoS Biology. 2004 Dec;2(12):e408. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0020408

Drosophila has been developed recently as a model system to investigate the molecular and neural mechanisms underlying responses to drugs of abuse. Genetic screens for mutants with altered drug-induced behaviors thus provide an unbiased approach to define novel molecules involved in the process. We identified mutations in the Drosophila LIM-only (LMO) gene, encoding a regulator of LIM-homeodomain proteins, in a genetic screen for mutants with altered cocaine sensitivity. Reduced Lmo function increases behavioral responses to cocaine, while Lmo overexpression causes the opposite effect, reduced cocaine responsiveness. Expression of Lmo in the principal Drosophila circadian pacemaker cells, the PDF-expressing ventral lateral neurons (LN(v)s), is sufficient to confer normal cocaine sensitivity. Consistent with a role for Lmo in LN(v)function,Lmomutants also show defects in circadian rhythms of behavior. However, the role for LN(v)s in modulating cocaine responses is separable from their role as pacemaker neurons: ablation or functional silencing of the LN(v)s reduces cocaine sensitivity, while loss of the principal circadian neurotransmitter PDF has no effect. Together, these results reveal a novel role for Lmo in modulating acute cocaine sensitivity and circadian locomotor rhythmicity, and add to growing evidence that these behaviors are regulated by shared molecular mechanisms. The finding that the degree of cocaine responsiveness is controlled by the Drosophila pacemaker neurons provides a neuroanatomical basis for this overlap. We propose that Lmo controls the responsiveness of LN(v)s to cocaine, which in turn regulate the flies’ behavioral sensitivity to the drug.

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12/15/02 | High-resolution analysis of ethanol-induced locomotor stimulation in Drosophila.
Wolf FW, Rodan AR, Tsai LTY, Heberlein U
The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2002 Dec 15;22(24):11035-44

Understanding how ethanol influences behavior is key to deciphering the mechanisms of ethanol action and alcoholism. In mammals, low doses of ethanol stimulate locomotion, whereas high doses depress it. The acute stimulant effect of ethanol has been proposed to be a manifestation of its rewarding effects. In Drosophila, ethanol exposure transiently potentiates locomotor activity in a biphasic dose- and time-dependent manner. An initial short-lived peak of activity corresponds to an olfactory response to ethanol. A second, longer-lasting period of increased activity coincides with rising internal ethanol concentrations; these closely parallel concentrations that stimulate locomotion in mammals. High-resolution analysis of the walking pattern of individual flies revealed that locomotion consists of bouts of activity; bout structure can be quantified by bout frequency, bout length, and the time spent walking at high speeds. Ethanol exposure induces both dramatic and dynamic changes in bout structure. Mutants with increased ethanol sensitivity show distinct changes in ethanol-induced locomotor behavior, as well as genotype-specific changes in activity bout structure. Thus, the overall effect of ethanol on locomotor behavior in Drosophila is caused by changes in discrete quantifiable parameters of walking pattern. The effects of ethanol on locomotion are comparable in flies and mammals, suggesting that Drosophila is a suitable model system to study the underlying mechanisms.

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11/01/02 | Functional dissection of neuroanatomical loci regulating ethanol sensitivity in Drosophila.
Rodan AR, Kiger JA, Heberlein U
The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2002 Nov 1;22(21):9490-501

Ethanol has complex but similar effects on behavior in mammals and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. In addition, genetic and pharmacological approaches have implicated the cAMP pathway in the regulation of ethanol-induced behaviors in both flies and rodents. Here we examine the neuroanatomical loci that modulate ethanol sensitivity in Drosophila by targeting the expression of an inhibitor of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) to specific regions in the fly’s brain. Expression of the inhibitor in most brain regions or in muscle has no effect on behavior. In contrast, inhibition of PKA in a relatively small number of cells, possibly neurosecretory cells, in the fly’s brain is sufficient to decrease sensitivity to the incoordinating effects of ethanol. Additional brain areas are, however, also involved. The mushroom bodies, brain structures where cAMP signaling is required for olfactory classical conditioning, are dispensable for the regulation of ethanol sensitivity. Finally, different behavioral effects of ethanol, motor incoordination and sedation, appear to be regulated by PKA function in distinct brain regions. We conclude that the regulation of ethanol-induced behaviors by PKA involves complex interactions among groups of cells that mediate either increased or reduced sensitivity to the acute intoxicating effects of ethanol.

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10/01/00 | Functional ethanol tolerance in Drosophila.
Scholz H, Ramond J, Singh CM, Heberlein U
Neuron. 2000 Oct;28:261-71

In humans, repeated alcohol consumption leads to the development of tolerance, manifested as a reduced physiological and behavioral response to a particular dose of alcohol. Here we show that adult Drosophila develop tolerance to the sedating and motor-impairing effects of ethanol with kinetics of acquisition and dissipation that mimic those seen in mammals. Importantly, this tolerance is not caused by changes in ethanol absorption or metabolism. Rather, the development of tolerance requires the functional and structural integrity of specific central brain regions. Mutants unable to synthesize the catecholamine octopamine are also impaired in their ability to develop tolerance. Taken together, these data show that Drosophila is a suitable model system in which to study the molecular and neuroanatomical bases of ethanol tolerance.

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02/24/00 | Dopamine modulates acute responses to cocaine, nicotine and ethanol in Drosophila.
Bainton RJ, Tsai LT, Singh CM, Moore MS, Neckameyer WS, Heberlein U
Current Biology. 2000 Feb 24;10(4):187-94

Drugs of abuse have a common property in mammals, which is their ability to facilitate the release of the neurotransmitter and neuromodulator dopamine in specific brain regions involved in reward and motivation. This increase in synaptic dopamine levels is believed to act as a positive reinforcer and to mediate some of the acute responses to drugs. The mechanisms by which dopamine regulates acute drug responses and addiction remain unknown.

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06/12/98 | Ethanol intoxication in Drosophila: genetic and pharmacological evidence for regulation by the cAMP signaling pathway.
Moore MS, DeZazzo J, Luk AY, Tully T, Singh CM, Heberlein U
Cell. 1998 Jun 12;93(6):997-1007

Upon exposure to ethanol, Drosophila display behaviors that are similar to ethanol intoxication in rodents and humans. Using an inebriometer to measure ethanol-induced loss of postural control, we identified cheapdate, a mutant with enhanced sensitivity to ethanol. Genetic and molecular analyses revealed that cheapdate is an allele of the memory mutant amnesiac. amnesiac has been postulated to encode a neuropeptide that activates the cAMP pathway. Consistent with this, we find that enhanced ethanol sensitivity of cheapdate can be reversed by treatment with agents that increase cAMP levels or PKA activity. Conversely, genetic or pharmacological reduction in PKA activity results in increased sensitivity to ethanol. Taken together, our results provide functional evidence for the involvement of the cAMP signal transduction pathway in the behavioral response to intoxicating levels of ethanol.

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12/24/13 | Competing dopamine neurons drive oviposition choice for ethanol in Drosophila.
Azanchi R, Kaun KR, Heberlein U
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2013 Dec 24;110(52):21153-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1320208110

The neural circuits that mediate behavioral choice evaluate and integrate information from the environment with internal demands and then initiate a behavioral response. Even circuits that support simple decisions remain poorly understood. In Drosophila melanogaster, oviposition on a substrate containing ethanol enhances fitness; however, little is known about the neural mechanisms mediating this important choice behavior. Here, we characterize the neural modulation of this simple choice and show that distinct subsets of dopaminergic neurons compete to either enhance or inhibit egg-laying preference for ethanol-containing food. Moreover, activity in α'β' neurons of the mushroom body and a subset of ellipsoid body ring neurons (R2) is required for this choice. We propose a model where competing dopaminergic systems modulate oviposition preference to adjust to changes in natural oviposition substrates.

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05/08/13 | The novel gene tank, a tumor suppressor homolog, regulates ethanol sensitivity in Drosophila.
Devineni AV, Eddison M, Heberlein U
The Journal of Neuroscience. 2013 May 8;33(19):8134-43. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3695-12.2013

In both mammalian and insect models of ethanol intoxication, high doses of ethanol induce motor impairment and eventually sedation. Sensitivity to the sedative effects of ethanol is inversely correlated with risk for alcoholism. However, the genes regulating ethanol sensitivity are largely unknown. Based on a previous genetic screen in Drosophila for ethanol sedation mutants, we identified a novel gene, tank (CG15626), the homolog of the mammalian tumor suppressor EI24/PIG8, which has a strong role in regulating ethanol sedation sensitivity. Genetic and behavioral analyses revealed that tank acts in the adult nervous system to promote ethanol sensitivity. We localized the function of tank in regulating ethanol sensitivity to neurons within the pars intercerebralis that have not been implicated previously in ethanol responses. We show that acutely manipulating the activity of all tank-expressing neurons, or of pars intercerebralis neurons in particular, alters ethanol sensitivity in a sexually dimorphic manner, since neuronal activation enhanced ethanol sedation in males, but not females. Finally, we provide anatomical evidence that tank-expressing neurons form likely synaptic connections with neurons expressing the neural sex determination factor fruitless (fru), which have been implicated recently in the regulation of ethanol sensitivity. We suggest that a functional interaction with fru neurons, many of which are sexually dimorphic, may account for the sex-specific effect induced by activating tank neurons. Overall, we have characterized a novel gene and corresponding set of neurons that regulate ethanol sensitivity in Drosophila.

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02/27/13 | A small group of neurosecretory cells expressing the transcriptional regulator apontic and the neuropeptide corazonin mediate ethanol sedation in Drosophila.
McClure KD, Heberlein U
The Journal of Neuroscience. 2013 Feb 27;33(9):4044-54. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3413-12.2013

In the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, as in mammals, acute exposure to a high dose of ethanol leads to stereotypical behavioral changes beginning with increased activity, followed by incoordination, loss of postural control, and eventually, sedation. The mechanism(s) by which ethanol impacts the CNS leading to ethanol-induced sedation and the genes required for normal sedation sensitivity remain largely unknown. Here we identify the gene apontic (apt), an Myb/SANT-containing transcription factor that is required in the nervous system for normal sensitivity to ethanol sedation. Using genetic and behavioral analyses, we show that apt mediates sensitivity to ethanol sedation by acting in a small set of neurons that express Corazonin (Crz), a neuropeptide likely involved in the physiological response to stress. The activity of Crz neurons regulates the behavioral response to ethanol, as silencing and activating these neurons affects sedation sensitivity in opposite ways. Furthermore, this effect is mediated by Crz, as flies with reduced crz expression show reduced sensitivity to ethanol sedation. Finally, we find that both apt and crz are rapidly upregulated by acute ethanol exposure. Thus, we have identified two genes and a small set of peptidergic neurons that regulate sensitivity to ethanol-induced sedation. We propose that Apt regulates the activity of Crz neurons and/or release of the neuropeptide during ethanol exposure.

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12/18/12 | Acute ethanol responses in Drosophila are sexually dimorphic.
Devineni AV, Heberlein U
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012 Dec 18;109(51):21087-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1218850110

In mammalian and insect models of ethanol intoxication, low doses of ethanol stimulate locomotor activity whereas high doses induce sedation. Sex differences in acute ethanol responses, which occur in humans, have not been characterized in Drosophila. In this study, we find that male flies show increased ethanol hyperactivity and greater resistance to ethanol sedation compared with females. We show that the sex determination gene transformer (tra) acts in the developing nervous system, likely through regulation of fruitless (fru), to at least partially mediate the sexual dimorphism in ethanol sedation. Although pharmacokinetic differences may contribute to the increased sedation sensitivity of females, neuronal tra expression regulates ethanol sedation independently of ethanol pharmacokinetics. We also show that acute activation of fru-expressing neurons affects ethanol sedation, further supporting a role for fru in regulating this behavior. Thus, we have characterized previously undescribed sex differences in behavioral responses to ethanol, and implicated fru in mediating a subset of these differences.

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11/07/12 | DlgS97/SAP97, a neuronal isoform of discs large, regulates ethanol tolerance.
Maiya R, Lee S, Berger KH, Kong EC, Slawson JB, Griffith LC, Takamiya K, Huganir RL, Margolis B, Heberlein U
PLoS One. 2012 Nov 7;7(11):e48967. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048967

From a genetic screen for Drosophila melanogaster mutants with altered ethanol tolerance, we identified intolerant (intol), a novel allele of discs large 1 (dlg1). Dlg1 encodes Discs Large 1, a MAGUK (Membrane Associated Guanylate Kinase) family member that is the highly conserved homolog of mammalian PSD-95 and SAP97. The intol mutation disrupted specifically the expression of DlgS97, a SAP97 homolog, and one of two major protein isoforms encoded by dlg1 via alternative splicing. Expression of the major isoform, DlgA, a PSD-95 homolog, appeared unaffected. Ethanol tolerance in the intol mutant could be partially restored by transgenic expression of DlgS97, but not DlgA, in specific neurons of the fly's brain. Based on co-immunoprecipitation, DlgS97 forms a complex with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, a known target of ethanol. Consistent with these observations, flies expressing reduced levels of the essential NMDA receptor subunit dNR1 also showed reduced ethanol tolerance, as did mutants in the gene calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase (caki), encoding the fly homolog of mammalian CASK, a known binding partner of DlgS97. Lastly, mice in which SAP97, the mammalian homolog of DlgS97, was conditionally deleted in adults failed to develop rapid tolerance to ethanol's sedative/hypnotic effects. We propose that DlgS97/SAP97 plays an important and conserved role in the development of tolerance to ethanol via NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic plasticity.

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10/01/12 | Tissue-specific activation of a single gustatory receptor produces opposing behavioral responses in Drosophila.
Joseph RM, Heberlein U
Genetics. 2012 Oct;192(2):521-32. doi: 10.1534/genetics.112.142455

Understanding sensory systems that perceive environmental inputs and neural circuits that select appropriate motor outputs is essential for studying how organisms modulate behavior and make decisions necessary for survival. Drosophila melanogaster oviposition is one such important behavior, in which females evaluate their environment and choose to lay eggs on substrates they may find aversive in other contexts. We employed neurogenetic techniques to characterize neurons that influence the choice between repulsive positional and attractive egg-laying responses toward the bitter-tasting compound lobeline. Surprisingly, we found that neurons expressing Gr66a, a gustatory receptor normally involved in avoidance behaviors, receive input for both attractive and aversive preferences. We hypothesized that these opposing responses may result from activation of distinct Gr66a-expressing neurons. Using tissue-specific rescue experiments, we found that Gr66a-expressing neurons on the legs mediate positional aversion. In contrast, pharyngeal taste cells mediate the egg-laying attraction to lobeline, as determined by analysis of mosaic flies in which subsets of Gr66a neurons were silenced. Finally, inactivating mushroom body neurons disrupted both aversive and attractive responses, suggesting that this brain structure is a candidate integration center for decision-making during Drosophila oviposition. We thus define sensory and central neurons critical to the process by which flies decide where to lay an egg. Furthermore, our findings provide insights into the complex nature of gustatory perception in Drosophila. We show that tissue-specific activation of bitter-sensing Gr66a neurons provides one mechanism by which the gustatory system differentially encodes aversive and attractive responses, allowing the female fly to modulate her behavior in a context-dependent manner.

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10/05/11 | Alk is a transcriptional target of LMO4 and ERα that promotes cocaine sensitization and reward.
Lasek AW, Gesch J, Giorgetti F, Kharazia V, Heberlein U
The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2011 Oct 5;31(40):14134-41. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3415-11.2011

Previously, we showed that the mouse LIM-domain only 4 (Lmo4) gene, which encodes a protein containing two zinc-finger LIM domains that interact with various DNA-binding transcription factors, attenuates behavioral sensitivity to repeated cocaine administration. Here we show that transcription of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (Alk) is repressed by LMO4 in the striatum and that Alk promotes the development of cocaine sensitization and conditioned place preference, a measure of cocaine reward. Since LMO4 is known to interact with estrogen receptor α (ERα) at the promoters of target genes, we investigated whether Alk expression might be controlled by a similar mechanism. We found that LMO4 and ERα are associated with the Alk promoter by chromatin immunoprecipitation and that Alk is an estrogen-responsive gene in the striatum. Moreover, we show that ERα knock-out mice exhibit enhanced cocaine sensitization and conditioned place preference and an increase in Alk expression in the nucleus accumbens. These data define a novel regulatory network involved in behavioral responses to cocaine. Interestingly, sex differences in several behavioral responses to cocaine in humans and rodents have been described, and estrogen is thought to mediate some of these differences. Our data suggest that estrogen regulation of Alk may be one mechanism responsible for sexually dimorphic responses to cocaine.

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05/01/11 | A Drosophila model for alcohol reward.
Kaun KR, Azanchi R, Maung Z, Hirsh J, Heberlein U
Nature Neuroscience. 2011 May;14(5):612-9. doi: 10.1038/nn.2805

The rewarding properties of drugs contribute to the development of abuse and addiction. We developed a new assay for investigating the motivational properties of ethanol in the genetically tractable model Drosophila melanogaster. Flies learned to associate cues with ethanol intoxication and, although transiently aversive, the experience led to a long-lasting attraction for the ethanol-paired cue, implying that intoxication is rewarding. Temporally blocking transmission in dopaminergic neurons revealed that flies require activation of these neurons to express, but not develop, conditioned preference for ethanol-associated cues. Moreover, flies acquired, consolidated and retrieved these rewarding memories using distinct sets of neurons in the mushroom body. Finally, mutations in scabrous, encoding a fibrinogen-related peptide that regulates Notch signaling, disrupted the formation of memories for ethanol reward. Our results thus establish that Drosophila can be useful for understanding the molecular, genetic and neural mechanisms underling the rewarding properties of ethanol.

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05/01/11 | A Drosophila model for fetal alcohol syndrome disorders: role for the insulin pathway.
McClure KD, French RL, Heberlein U
Disease Models & Mechanisms. 2011 May;4(3):335-46. doi: 10.1242/dmm.006411

Prenatal exposure to ethanol in humans results in a wide range of developmental abnormalities, including growth deficiency, developmental delay, reduced brain size, permanent neurobehavioral abnormalities and fetal death. Here we describe the use of Drosophila melanogaster as a model for exploring the effects of ethanol exposure on development and behavior. We show that developmental ethanol exposure causes reduced viability, developmental delay and reduced adult body size. We find that flies reared on ethanol-containing food have smaller brains and imaginal discs, which is due to reduced cell division rather than increased apoptosis. Additionally, we show that, as in mammals, flies reared on ethanol have altered responses to ethanol vapor exposure as adults, including increased locomotor activation, resistance to the sedating effects of the drug and reduced tolerance development upon repeated ethanol exposure. We have found that the developmental and behavioral defects are largely due to the effects of ethanol on insulin signaling; specifically, a reduction in Drosophila insulin-like peptide (Dilp) and insulin receptor expression. Transgenic expression of Dilp proteins in the larval brain suppressed both the developmental and behavioral abnormalities displayed by ethanol-reared adult flies. Our results thus establish Drosophila as a useful model system to uncover the complex etiology of fetal alcohol syndrome.

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08/01/00 | Genetic control of acute ethanol-induced behaviors in Drosophila.
Singh CM, Heberlein U
Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. 2000 Aug;24(8):1127-36

BACKGROUND: In most organisms in which acute ethanol exposure has been studied, it leads to similar changes in behavior. Generally, low ethanol doses activate the central nervous system, whereas high doses are sedative. Sensitivity to the acute intoxicating effects of ethanol is in part under genetic control in rodents and humans, and reduced sensitivity in humans predicts the development of alcoholism (Crabbe et al., 1994; Schuckit, 1994). We have established Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism to study the mechanisms that regulate acute sensitivity to ethanol.

METHODS: We measured the effects of ethanol vapor on Drosophila locomotor behaviors by using three different assays. Horizontal locomotion was quantified in a locomotor chamber, turning behavior was assayed in narrow tubes, and ethanol-induced loss of postural control was measured in an inebriometer. Mutants with altered sensitivity to the acute effects of ethanol were generated by treatment with ethyl methane sulfonate and isolated by selection in the inebriometer. We ascertained the effects of these mutations on ethanol pharmacokinetics by measuring ethanol levels in extracts of flies at various times during and after ethanol exposure.

RESULTS: Among nearly 30,000 potentially mutant flies tested, we isolated 19 mutant strains with reduced and 4 strains with increased sensitivity to the acute effects of ethanol as measured in the inebriometer. Of these mutants, four showed changes in ethanol absorption. Two mutants, named barfly and tipsy to reflect their reduced and increased ethanol sensitivity in the inebriometer, respectively, were analyzed for locomotor behaviors. Both mutants exhibited ethanol-induced hyperactivity that was indistinguishable from wild type. However, barfly and tipsy displayed reduced and increased sensitivity to the sedative effects of ethanol, respectively. Finally, both mutants showed an increased rate of ethanol-induced turning behavior.

CONCLUSIONS: The effects of acute ethanol exposure on Drosophila locomotor behaviors are remarkably similar to those described for mammals. The analysis of mutants with altered sensitivity to ethanol revealed that the genetic pathways which regulate these responses are complex and that single genes can affect hyperactivity, turning, and sedation independently.

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