University of Texas El Paso’s (UTEP) associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Neuroscience and Metabolic Disorders Project at UTEP, Kyung-An Han, has been researching on the effects of alcohol on fruit flies for several years and is aiming to use her findings on humans struggling with addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Addiction and PTSD have been found to be directly linked to memory formation, and Han has found a molecule in fruit flies associated with reward-based learning and memory, referred to as appetitive stimulus. This molecule contributes to the formation of good, but not bad, memory. Noting similarities in fruit flies’ and humans’ brain functions, Han’s research analyses how certain stimuli can trigger memories, and how this applies to addiction and PTSD.
Han shares on El Paso Times:
“People tend to develop a stronger memory about drug cues that are pleasurable,” she said. “Cocaine addicts tend to think about the drug when they see mirrors, because that’s how they associate the two. They tend to associate the stimuli and the environment of their drug-taking habit. When alcoholics meet people they used to hang out with and drink with, by meeting those people again, it triggers those memories and the desire to drink.”
Han, together with fellow UTEP researchers Young-Cho Kim and Junghwa Lim, and Hyun-Gwan Lee from Pennsylvania State University conducted experiments on fruit flies to assess their ability to learn and form memories through appetitive and aversive conditioning. Test results showed that the flies had “severely impaired acquisition” of good memory, but normal acquisition of bad, because of a deficiency in octopamine receptor OAMB – octopamine being responsible for their “fight or flight” response, with norepinephrine as the human counterpart. The researchers hope to utilize their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms of impulse control to develop more effective medications for addiction and PTSD.