A Study About Sex-Deprived Fruit Flies And Alcohol Sheds Light On The Human Brain

alcohol fruit fly

Photo: Jody Roberts/Getty Images

It’s not just human men who seek solace in the bottle after being turned away by women.  Sex-deprived male fruit flies also turn to alcohol, according to a study published in the journal Science.  

Researchers found that male fruit flies, who continued to strike out with female fruit flies over a four-day period, preferred alcohol-soaked food mash, while sexually sated fruit flies preferred non-alcoholic snacks. 

Neuroscientist Galit Shohat-Ophir, author of the study, told Sarah C. P. Williams of Science Magazine that neuropeptide F (NPF) levels drive behaviour such as drinking, and the rejected virgin sex-deprived flies had only half the amount of NPF in their brain. 

To verify this, the researchers lowered the amount of NPF in the brains of sexually sated flies, who in turn began drinking more as well.

“What we did, in order to establish a causal relationship, was manipulated the system,” researcher Ulrike Heberlein told Bloomberg. “We were able to prove it in both directions, so that’s strong evidence of causality.”

Humans and other mammals contain neuropeptide Y (NPY) in their brains — a similar substance to NPF — which has previously been tied to depression and PTSD. Alcohol and drug addiction connection to NPY has only been proven in rats so far, reported Williams.  

George Koob, a professor of neurobiology and addiction at the Scripps Research Institute told Benedict Carey of the New York Times that by creating drugs to manipulate levels of NPY, scientists could reduce drinking: 

“The study implies that it is this system that goes haywire in addiction, and that it’s very sensitive to stress. For instance, after you lose a loved one, or a relationship has crashed, you get dysphoric, your NPY goes down, and this provides a strong urge to drink a lot — whether you’re a mammal or a fruit fly.” 

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