‘Happy hour’ gene discovery suggests cancer drugs might treat alcoholism

Happy hourA 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.

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