A research team has developed "mutant" worms that don't get drunk due to an alcohol-insensitive mutation. The discovery could one day lead to a medication that could stop intoxication by alcohol-imbibing humans.
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Texas at Austin claims the discovery may also lead to new drugs to help alcoholics dealing with withdrawal.
"This is the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal," said corresponding author, Jon Pierce-Shimomura. He is an assistant professor in the university's College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.
An alcohol target is any neuronal molecule that binds alcohol. There are many such molecules. In the study the alcohol target was a neuronal channel called the BK channel, which controls many important body functions including the respiratory tract and bladder.
"We got pretty lucky and found a way to make the channel insensitive to alcohol without affecting its normal function," said Pierce-Shimomura.
"Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol-abuse disorders," he added. "However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit."
The study, said Pierce-Shimomura, took a simple approach.
"We tried a brute force approach, testing hundreds of mutations to empirically determine which one would allow the BK channel to function normally [while still] preventing alcohol from activating it," explained Pierce-Shimomura. Researchers tested each mutation by putting the worm in a dish full of alcohol. There were no signs the alcohol impacted the worm's behavior.
"The research could even be used to develop a 'James Bond' drug someday, which would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table, without getting drunk himself," he added.