Response to cocaine linked to biological clock genes

A new study shows that a surprising phenomenon--sensitivity to repeated cocaine exposure--can now be added to the short list of activities linked to genes controlling the biological clock.

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) unearthed the unexpected connection between circadian rhythms in insects and cocaine sensitization, a behavior that occurs in both fruit flies and vertebrates and that has been linked to drug addiction in humans.

In the August 13 issue of Science, Dr. Jay Hirsh and his coworkers Rozi Andretic and Sarah Chaney at the University of Virginia report that fruit flies missing several genes that play a critical role in the insects' internal biological clock did not become sensitized to cocaine, a process in which repeated doses of the drug produce increasingly severe responses.

"This opens up the field of drug studies to thinking about how a totally unexpected set of genes functions in response to drugs," said Dr. Hirsh, the senior author of the report.

Besides enabling the potential development of drugs to treat cocaine addiction, this research holds out the prospect that so-called "clock" genes--which are involved in setting and maintaining the body's internal clock--might have other, as yet undiscovered, roles in the body and brain.

"These important findings illustrate that the clock genes perform other important roles in regulating the physiology of fruit flies, and likely humans," said Dr. Michael Sesma, a neurobiologist at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an NIH component that funded the study along with NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Fruit flies--recognized by many people as unwanted sentinels of overripe bananas--are an extraordinary laboratory tool. Nearly a century of genetic research on fruit flies now permits biologists to mix and match fly genes to probe the function of physiological processes such as nervous system pathways. Importantly, many of the genes d

Contact: Alison Davis
NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences

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