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November 2014


Alcohol addiction is a widespread societal problem, for which there are few treatments. There are significant genetic and environmental influences on abuse liability, and understanding these factors will be important for the identification of susceptible individuals and the development of effective pharmacotherapies. In humans, the level of response to alcohol is strongly predictive of subsequent alcohol abuse. Level of response is a combination of counteracting responses to alcohol, the level of sensitivity to the drug and the degree to which tolerance develops during the drug exposure, called acute functional tolerance. We use the simple and well-characterized nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans to model the acute behavioral effects of ethanol to identify genetic and environmental factors that influence level of response to ethanol. Given the strong molecular conservation between the neurobiological machinery of worms and humans, cellular-level effects of ethanol are likely to be conserved. Increasingly, variation in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid levels has been implicated in complex neurobiological phenotypes in humans, and we recently found that fatty acid levels modify ethanol responses in worms. Here, we report that 1) eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, is required for the development of acute functional tolerance, 2) dietary supplementation of eicosapentaenoic acid is sufficient for acute tolerance, and 3) dietary eicosapentaenoic acid can alter the wild-type response to ethanol. These results suggest that genetic variation influencing long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid levels may be important abuse liability loci, and that dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids may be an important environmental modulator of the behavioral response to ethanol.


© 2014 Raabe et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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VCU Pharmacology and Toxicology Publications (10285 kB)
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