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Male flies strike out with the ladies and hit the booze

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Sex and alcohol appear to offer their rewards through the same system.

Could the solace of alcohol make up for missing out on the pleasures of sex? It appears that way, at least if you're a male fly, says new study in Science.

The researchers initially intended to look at how the insects seek rewards. Lead author Galit Shohat-Ophir at UC San Francisco told BBC News reporter Jason Palmer:

"Drugs of abuse kind of hijack the same neural pathways used by natural rewards, so we wanted to use alcohol - which is an extreme example of a compound that can affect the reward system - to get into the mechanism of what makes social interaction rewarding for animals."

The researchers found that post-coital male flies avoided alcohol-spiked food. But males who'd recently been turned down by female flies were all about the booze.

What do sex and alcohol have in common for these flies? The team found that both stimulate levels of neuropeptide F (NPF), a rewarding fly brain chemical.

When the rejected flies couldn't get that reward from sex, they looked for it in alcohol instead.

Given that human brains have a similar reward protein to NPF, called neuropeptide Y, it's tempting to anthromorphize these results – imagining that sex and booze have a similarly parallel affect on human males. However, an accompanying Science article puts a damper on that thought. The authors emphasize that researchers have not yet confirmed this link between sex and alcohol in humans.

[via BBC News and Science]

Photo:  Angel Arcones/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure