Common fruit fly helps scientists study alcohol-related disorders

Scientists have shown how the common fruit fly Drosophila, which possess similar electrophysiological and pharmacological properties as humans, could now be used to screen and develop new therapies for alcohol-related behavioural disorders and some genetic diseases.

Researchers from the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology have been using the fruit fly to study the effects of alcohol on a particular gene found within potassium channels in the brain. 

The results, published in PLOS ONE, have validated the fruit fly's compatibility with this type of analysis to pave the way for further study in this area.

Potassium channels in the brain act as nano-switches that generate small electrical impulses that help encode information in our brain, make our heart beat and generate muscle contraction.

Considered as the 'spark of life' these channels form pores that allow the flow of 'charged' potassium across our cell membranes, this allows information to be encoded as electrical impulses in the brain's neural circuit.

The team has been studying the KCNQ family of genes, a subtype of the potassium channel group, responsible for generating changes in the excitability of neurons that underlie memory formation and the release of dopamine - a chemical linked to the brain's central reward pathway that is stimulated after pleasurable activities.