A full list of our publications is available at  PubMed.

Mef2 induction of the immediate early gene Hr38/Nr4a is terminated by Sirt1 to promote ethanol tolerance

Drug naïve animals given a single dose of ethanol show changed responses to subsequent doses, including the development of ethanol tolerance and ethanol preference. These simple forms of behavioral plasticity are due in part to changes in gene expression and neuronal properties. Surprisingly little is known about how ethanol initiates changes in gene expression or what the changes do. Here we demonstrate a role in ethanol plasticity for Hr38, the sole Drosophila homolog of the mammalian Nr4a1/2/3 class of immediate early response transcription factors. Acute ethanol exposure induces transient expression of Hr38 and other immediate early neuronal activity genes. Ethanol activates the Mef2 transcriptional activator to induce Hr38, and the Sirt1 histone/protein deacetylase is required to terminate Hr38 induction. Loss of Hr38 decreases ethanol tolerance and causes precocious but short-lasting ethanol preference. Similarly, reduced Mef2 activity in all neurons or specifically in the mushroom body α/β neurons decreases ethanol tolerance; Sirt1 promotes ethanol tolerance in these same neurons. Genetically decreasing Hr38 expression levels in Sirt1 null mutants restores ethanol tolerance, demonstrating that both induction and termination of Hr38 expression are important for behavioral plasticity to proceed. These data demonstrate that Hr38 functions as an immediate early transcription factor that promotes ethanol behavioral plasticity.

PMID: 29726098     Download: PDF


Satiation State-dependent Dopaminergic Control of Foraging in Drosophila

Hunger evokes stereotypic behaviors that favor the discovery of nutrients. The neural pathways that coordinate internal and external cues to motivate foraging behaviors are only partly known. Drosophila that are food deprived increase locomotor activity, are more efficient in locating a discrete source of nutrition, and are willing to overcome adversity to obtain food. We developed a simple open field assay that allows flies to freely perform multiple steps of the foraging sequence, and we show that two distinct dopaminergic neural circuits regulate measures of foraging behaviors. One group, the PAM neurons, functions in food deprived flies while the other functions in well fed flies, and both promote foraging. These satiation state-dependent circuits converge on dopamine D1 receptor-expressing Kenyon cells of the mushroom body, where neural activity promotes foraging independent of satiation state. These findings provide evidence for active foraging in well-fed flies that is separable from hunger-driven foraging.

PMID: 29636522     Download: PDF


Perineurial Barrier Glia Physically Respond to Alcohol in an Akap200-Dependent Manner to Promote Tolerance

Ethanol is the most common drug of abuse. It exerts its behavioral effects by acting on widespread neural circuits; however, its impact on glial cells is less understood. We show that Drosophila perineurial glia are critical for ethanol tolerance, a simple form of behavioral plasticity. The perineurial glia form the continuous outer cellular layer of the blood-brain barrier and are the interface between the brain and the circulation. Ethanol tolerance development requires the A kinase anchoring protein Akap200 specifically in perineurial glia. Akap200 tightly coordinates protein kinase A, actin, and calcium signaling at the membrane to control tolerance. Furthermore, ethanol causes a structural remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton and perineurial membrane topology in an Akap200-dependent manner, without disrupting classical barrier functions. Our findings reveal an active molecular signaling process in the cells at the blood-brain interface that permits a form of behavioral plasticity induced by ethanol.

PMID: 29444420     Download: PDF


Sir2/Sirt1 Links Acute Inebriation to Presynaptic Changes and the Development of Alcohol Tolerance, Preference, and Reward

Acute ethanol inebriation causes neuroadaptive changes in behavior that favor increased intake. Ethanol-induced alterations in gene expression, through epigenetic and other means, are likely to change cellular and neural circuit function. Ethanol markedly changes histone acetylation, and the sirtuin Sir2/SIRT1 that deacetylates histones and transcription factors is essential for the rewarding effects of long-term drug use. The molecular transformations leading from short-term to long-term ethanol responses mostly remain to be discovered. We find that Sir2 in the mushroom bodies of the fruit fly Drosophila promotes short-term ethanol-induced behavioral plasticity by allowing changes in the expression of presynaptic molecules. Acute inebriation strongly reduces Sir2 levels and increases histone H3 acetylation in the brain. Flies lacking Sir2 globally, in the adult nervous system, or specifically in the mushroom body α/β-lobes show reduced ethanol sensitivity and tolerance. Sir2-dependent ethanol reward is also localized to the mushroom bodies, and Sir2 mutants prefer ethanol even without a priming ethanol pre-exposure. Transcriptomic analysis reveals that specific presynaptic molecules, including the synaptic vesicle pool regulator Synapsin, depend on Sir2 to be regulated by ethanol. Synapsin is required for ethanol sensitivity and tolerance. We propose that the regulation of Sir2/SIRT1 by acute inebriation forms part of a transcriptional program in mushroom body neurons to alter presynaptic properties and neural responses to favor the development of ethanol tolerance, preference, and reward.

PMID: 27170122     Download: PDF


Shared neurocircuitry underlying feeding and drugs of abuse in Drosophila

The neural circuitry and molecules that control the rewarding properties of food and drugs of abuse appear to partially overlap in the mammalian brain. This has raised questions about the extent of the overlap and the precise role of specific circuit elements in reward and in other behaviors associated with feeding regulation and drug responses. The much simpler brain of invertebrates including the fruit fly Drosophila, offers an opportunity to make high-resolution maps of the circuits and molecules that govern behavior. Recent progress in Drosophila has revealed not only some common substrates for the actions of drugs of abuse and for the regulation of feeding, but also a remarkable level of conservation with vertebrates for key neuromodulatory transmitters. We speculate that Drosophila may serve as a model for distinguishing the neural mechanisms underlying normal and pathological motivational states that will be applicable to mammals.

PMID: 27013449     Download: PDF


A Pair of Dopamine Neurons Target the D1-Like Dopamine Receptor DopR in the Central Complex to Promote Ethanol-Stimulated Locomotion in Drosophila

Dopamine is a mediator of the stimulant properties of drugs of abuse, including ethanol, in mammals and in the fruit fly Drosophila. The neural substrates for the stimulant actions of ethanol in flies are not known. We show that a subset of dopamine neurons and their targets, through the action of the D1-like dopamine receptor DopR, promote locomotor activation in response to acute ethanol exposure. A bilateral pair of dopaminergic neurons in the fly brain mediates the enhanced locomotor activity induced by ethanol exposure, and promotes locomotion when directly activated. These neurons project to the central complex ellipsoid body, a structure implicated in regulating motor behaviors. Ellipsoid body neurons are required for ethanol-induced locomotor activity and they express DopR. Elimination of DopR blunts the locomotor activating effects of ethanol, and this behavior can be restored by selective expression of DopR in the ellipsoid body. These data tie the activity of defined dopamine neurons to D1-like DopR-expressing neurons to form a neural circuit that governs acute responding to ethanol.

PMID: 20376353     Download: PDF


Ethanol-regulated genes that contribute to ethanol sensitivity and rapid tolerance in Drosophila.

Increased ethanol intake, a major predictor for the development of alcohol use disorders, is facilitated by the development of tolerance to both the aversive and pleasurable effects of the drug. The molecular mechanisms underlying ethanol tolerance development are complex and are not yet well understood. To identify genetic mechanisms that contribute to ethanol tolerance, we examined the time course of gene expression changes elicited by a single sedating dose of ethanol in Drosophila, and completed a behavioral survey of strains harboring mutations in ethanol-regulated genes. Enrichment for genes in metabolism, nucleic acid binding, olfaction, regulation of signal transduction, and stress suggests that these biological processes are coordinately affected by ethanol exposure. We also detected a coordinate up-regulation of genes in the Toll and Imd innate immunity signal transduction pathways. A multi-study comparison revealed a small set of genes showing similar regulation, including increased expression of 3 genes for serine biosynthesis. A survey of Drosophila strains harboring mutations in ethanol-regulated genes for ethanol sensitivity and tolerance phenotypes revealed roles for serine biosynthesis, olfaction, transcriptional regulation, immunity, and metabolism. Flies harboring deletions of the genes encoding the olfactory co-receptor Or83b or the sirtuin Sir2 showed marked changes in the development of ethanol tolerance. Our findings implicate novel roles for these genes in regulating ethanol behavioral responses.

PMID: 19951294     Download: PDF


High-Resolution Analysis of Ethanol-Induced Locomotor Stimulation in Drosophila

Understanding how ethanol influences behavior is key to deciphering the mechanisms of ethanol action and alcoholism. In mammals, low doses of ethanol stimulate locomotion, whereas high doses depress it. The acute stimulant effect of ethanol has been proposed to be a manifestation of its rewarding effects. In Drosophila, ethanol exposure transiently potentiates locomotor activity in a biphasic dose- and time-dependent manner. An initial short-lived peak of activity corresponds to an olfactory response to ethanol. A second, longer-lasting period of increased activity coincides with rising internal ethanol concentrations; these closely parallel concentrations that stimulate locomotion in mammals. High-resolution analysis of the walking pattern of individual flies revealed that locomotion consists of bouts of activity; bout structure can be quantified by bout frequency, bout length, and the time spent walking at high speeds. Ethanol exposure induces both dramatic and dynamic changes in bout structure. Mutants with increased ethanol sensitivity show distinct changes in ethanol-induced locomotor behavior, as well as genotype-specific changes in activity bout structure. Thus, the overall effect of ethanol on locomotor behavior in Drosophila is caused by changes in discrete quantifiable parameters of walking pattern. The effects of ethanol on locomotion are comparable in flies and mammals, suggesting that Drosophila is a suitable model system to study the underlying mechanisms.

PMID: 12486199     Download: PDF


Habituation of an odorant-induced startle response in Drosophila

Habituation is a fundamental form of behavioral plasticity that permits organisms to ignore inconsequential stimuli. Here we describe the habituation of a locomotor response to ethanol and other odorants in Drosophila, measured by an automated high-throughput locomotor tracking system. Flies exhibit an immediate and transient startle response upon exposure to a novel odor. Surgical removal of the antennae, the fly's major olfactory organs, abolishes this startle response. With repeated discrete exposures to ethanol vapor, the startle response habituates. Habituation is reversible by a mechanical stimulus and is not due to the accumulation of ethanol in the organism, nor to non-specific mechanisms. Ablation or inactivation of the mushroom bodies, central brain structures involved in olfactory and courtship conditioning, results in decreased olfactory habituation. In addition, olfactory habituation to ethanol generalizes to odorants that activate separate olfactory receptors. Finally, habituation is impaired in rutabaga, an adenylyl cyclase mutant isolated based on a defect in olfactory associative learning. These data demonstrate that olfactory habituation operates, at least in part, through central mechanisms. This novel model of olfactory habituation in freely moving Drosophila provides a scalable method for studying the molecular and neural bases of this simple and ubiquitous form of learning.

PMID: 15140008     Download: PDF




Invertebrate models of drug abuse.

Susceptibility to drug addiction depends on genetic and environmental factors and their complex interactions. Studies with mammalian models have identified molecular targets, neurochemical systems, and brain regions that mediate some of the addictive properties of abused drugs. Yet, our understanding of how the primary effects of drugs lead to addiction remains incomplete. Recently, researchers have turned to the invertebrate model systems Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans to dissect the mechanisms by which abused drugs modulate behavior. Due to their sophisticated genetics, relatively simple anatomy, and their remarkable molecular similarity to mammals, these invertebrate models should provide useful insights into the mechanisms of drug action. Here we review recent behavioral and genetic studies in flies and worms on the effects of ethanol, cocaine, and nicotine, three of the most widely abused drugs in the world.

PMID: 12486703     Download: PDF