Mutating a gene in the fruitfly Drosophila increases the insect's resistance to the sedating effects of alcohol, report Ulrike Heberlein at the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues. They call the gene happyhour and have found, through a series of genetic manipulations in flies, that the normal happyhour protein seems to work by inhibiting the activity of the extracellular growth factor receptor pathway. This is conserved in flies and mammals, and is a target of some cancer drugs.
One such drug, erlotinib, made lightweights of flies and mice, enhancing their sensitivity to ethanol, and reduced alcohol consumption in rats that had become accustomed to a tipple. The authors suggest the results might point to therapeutic avenues for people with drinking problems.