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'Happy hour' gene discovery suggests cancer drugs might treat alcoholism
Date:5/21/2009

A class of drugs already approved as cancer treatments might also help to beat alcohol addiction. That's the conclusion of a discovery in flies of a gene, dubbed happyhour, that has an important and previously unknown role in controlling the insects' response to alcohol.

Animals with a mutant version of the gene grow increasingly resistant to alcohol's sedative effects, the research shows. The researchers report further evidence that the gene normally does its work by blocking the so-called Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) pathway. That EGF pathway is best known for its role in cancer, and drugs designed to inhibit the EGF receptor, including erlotinib (trade name Tarceva) and gefitinib (trade name Iressa), are FDA-approved for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer.

Now, the researchers show that flies and mice treated with erlotinib also grow more sensitive to alcohol. What's more, rats given the cancer-fighting drug spontaneously consumed less alcohol when it was freely available to them. Their taste for another rewarding beverage -- sugar water -- was unaffected.

"This is a very powerful example of how simple model organisms -- and the little fruit fly in particular -- can be used to move quickly from an unknown gene to a potential therapy for drug addiction," said Ulrike Heberlein of the University of California, San Francisco, noting that erlotinib and gefitinib, along with other EGFR inhibitors, not only cross the blood-brain barrier in humans, but they are also well-tolerated in general.

Alcohol is one of the most popular and abused drugs in the world, the researchers said. Therefore, a better understanding of the genetic and environmental factors that lead to its addiction would have considerable benefit for those who suffer its consequences and for society at large. Despite the well-known effects of alcohol consumption on behavior and cognition, the underlying basis for those effects on the nervous system are stil
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Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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