PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A love-hate relationship with alcohol is not unique to human beings. Fruit flies exhibit much the same capacity to find both reward and aversion from the addictive chemical. With a newly announced grant, Karla Kaun, assistant professor of neuroscience, will use fruit fly models to study the fundamental molecular biology of the brain that allows memories of reward to outlast memories of aversion after intoxication.
The funding — $300,000 over three years — comes from the Smith Family Awards Program for Excellence in Biomedical Research of Newton, Mass. The Smith Program makes grants to full-time early career scientists pursuing medical breakthroughs at nonprofit academic, medical or research institutions in Massachusetts, or at Brown University or Yale University.
“Alcohol has both aversive and rewarding properties, however the abiding memories of an intoxication experience are for alcohol’s rewarding properties,” Kaun said. “In contrast, the memory for alcohol’s aversive properties, such as a bitter taste or a resulting hangover, is often short-lived. Little is known about the neuronal and molecular mechanisms underlying this consequential switch in alcohol memory valence.”
Kaun hopes to fill in that knowledge gap by studying the relevant brain circuitry in several genetic variants of Drosophila flies and the molecular signaling mechanisms that drive those circuits. The goal is to generate new ideas for treating alcohol addiction in humans.
“Our approach to investigating the switch from aversive to appetitive ethanol memory in Drosophila will provide in-depth understanding of how alcohol becomes rewarding in a behaving animal,” she said. “This work has the potential to reveal innovative therapeutic interventions aimed at reshaping maladaptive emotional valences and restoring the delicate balance between the rewarding and aversive effects of alcohol.”