“Hangover gene” is key to alcohol stamina

Fruit flies in a recent study got a double shot of alcohol's effects, courtesy of genetics and ethanol fumes, offering new clues about alcohol tolerance.

First, the drunken flies got hyperactive. Then, they got woozy and conked out until their alcohol buzz wore off.

It was all in the name of science. Ulrike Heberlein, PhD, and colleagues were studying a newfound gene in fruit flies that appears to affect alcohol tolerance.

Heberlein and colleagues dubbed the gene the "hangover" gene. But the gene didn't literally create hangovers. Instead, it's required for normal development of ethanol tolerance, write the researchers.

Flies with the gene built up tolerance to ethanol fumes. Tolerance allows increased amounts of alcohol to be consumed, which leads to physical dependence and addiction over time, reports CBS.

Paula Hoffman, who studies alcohol tolerance in mice at the University of Colorado, Denver, agrees that humans probably have the equivalent gene. Hoffman says a similar gene is switched on in mice when they are given alcohol, although she doesn't know why. "It's nice to see that these things seem to be parallel in different organisms," Hoffman says. Hangover is the second known gene responsible for ethanol tolerance. Five years ago, Heberlein's group showed that a gene for a neurotransmitter called octopamine, which helps flies memorize rewarding experiences, is also important. Flies lacking both these genes have almost no alcohol tolerance, informs Nature.

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