Thursday 23 May 2019

Mutant worms that cannot get drunk could help alcoholics

Worms process the slurry
Worms process the slurry

Frank Whelan

Scientists at the University of Texas have created mutant worms that do not get intoxicated by alcohol. The results could lead to new drugs relating to effects of alcohol in humans.

As reported in the Journal of Neuroscience this week, the scientists created the worms by inserting a modified human alcohol target.

"This is the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal," says corresponding author, Jon Pierce-Shimomura, assistant professor in the university's College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.

One major breakthrough is the ability to affect the response to alcohol without affecting other neurological areas. The BK neuronal channel in question typically regulates important functions such as the bladder, respiratory tract, blood vessels and the activity of neurons.

"We got pretty lucky and found a way to make the channel insensitive to alcohol without affecting its normal function," says Pierce-Shimomura.

The scientists believe the research could help people who are addicted to alcohol.

"Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol abuse disorders," says Pierce-Shimomura. "However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit."

The worms used in the study displaying clear signs of being drunk,  slowing their crawling and wriggling less. The intoxicated worms also stop laying eggs, which build up in their body and can be counted.

The next stage is to test the modified BK channel in mice, as worms fail to display other effects of alcohol such as craving, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

Pierce-Shimomura speculated that their research could even be used to develop a 'James Bond' drug someday, which would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table, without getting drunk himself.

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