Drosophila as a model for drug addiction

Published on September 29, 2008 Reviewed on September 25, 2017   34 min

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Drosophila as a model for drug addiction, Ulrike Heberlein Department of Anatomy, University of California at San Francisco.
Drug addiction and drug abuse are major problems in medicine and society. The Center for Disease Control recently reported that in the year 2000, over half a million people died in the United States as a consequence of excessive drug use. Despite the immensity of the problem, few treatment strategies are currently available and those that exist have met with limited success. The reasons for this are multi-faceted. First, drug addiction is still not broadly acknowledged as a disease and the associated stigma has hampered human studies. Second, while it is well established that genetic and environmental factors contribute to an increased risk for addiction, the genetic factors are quite complex and have so far eluded definitive identification. Finally, while the primary sites of action of many abuse drugs are known, little is known about the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which drug use changes the brain into the addicted state.
Drosophila was introduced in the mid 1990s as a model system to help define the mechanisms by which abuse drugs act in the nervous system to alter behavior and the mechanisms by which the brain changes upon repeated drug exposure. The approach relied on 2 main assumptions. 1st, that the mechanisms by which genes regulate drug induced behaviors would be conserved in evolution. In that lessons learned in flies would therefore be applicable to mammals, including humans and 2nd that by studying some relatively simple behaviors such as acute drug responses, something would be learned about the much more complex process of addiction. Flies provide of course, economy of scale, the benefit of about 100 years of classical genetics and several decades of molecular genetic analysis. They have a sequence genome and have shown a substantial degree of functional conservation with mammals. Place had a complex nervous system in are capable of many sophisticated behaviors. They have been and continue to be an extremely successful model system in behavioral genetics where they have helped decipher the basis of circadian rhythms, learning and memory, and courtship, among others.