Let’s file this under the “Yew jus’ cain’t make this $#!t up!” category, shall we?
Apparently… and I am NOT making this stuff up… sexually deprived male fruit flies exhibit a pattern of behavior that seems ripped from the pages of modern man’s ‘That’s the Story of My Life!’
When female fruit flies reject their sexual advances, the males are driven to excessive alcohol consumption, drinking far more than comparable, sexually satisfied male flies.
(Fruit fly porn! Eeek!!)
It seems that a little molecule is what’s behind this sad and somewhat loserish behaviour.
According to our pals at ScienceDaily.com, a group of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has discovered that a tiny molecule in the fly’s brain called neuropeptide F governs this behavior – as the levels of the molecule change in their brains, the flies’ behavior changes as well.
So… why do we care?
Well, it turns out that the brain mechanisms that make social interaction rewarding for animals and can shed light on those that underlie human addiction. You see, a similar human molecule, called neuropeptide Y, may likewise connect social triggers to behaviors like excessive drinking and drug abuse. Adjusting the levels of neuropeptide Y in people may alter their addictive behavior — which, by the way, is exactly what the UCSF team observed in the fruit flies.
“If neuropeptide Y turns out to be the transducer between the state of the psyche and the drive to abuse alcohol and drugs, one could develop therapies to inhibit neuropeptide Y receptors,” said Ulrike Heberlein, PhD, a Professor of Anatomy and Neurology at UCSF, who led the research.
Clinical trials are underway, she added, to test whether delivery of neuropeptide Y can alleviate anxiety and other mood disorders as well as obesity.
Now the question that intrigued me was, “How did they get a whole bunch of jilted male fruit flies in the first place?”
Piece of cake, it seems!
It appears that despite being floozy as all get out when virgins, pregnant female fruit flies no longer show any interest in male fruit flies. It was just a matter of putting a whole bunch of horny male fruit flies together with a whole bunch of “talk to the hand” pregnant female fruit flies. The result… sex starved and somewhat depressed male fruit flies.
But the weird thing is… the rejected males then gave up trying to mate altogether. Even when placed in the same cage as virgin flies, they were not as keen to have sex. Their drinking behavior also changed.
Now I was really interested. How do you get sexually rejected male fruit flies to drown their sorrows in booze?
Again, ludicrously simple!
When placed by themselves in a new container and presented with two straws, one containing plain food and the other containing food supplemented with 15 percent alcohol, the sexually rejected flies binged on the alcohol, drinking far more than their sexually satisfied cousins whose advances were never spurned. The difference was not only apparent in their behavior. It was completely predicted by the levels of neuropeptide F in their brains.
“It’s a switch that represents the level of reward in the brain and translates it into reward-seeking behavior,” said Galit Shohat-Ophir, PhD, the first author of the new study.