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Home  >  Medical Research Archives  >  Issue 149  > Opiate Sensitivity in Fruit Flies
Published in the Medical Research Archives
Apr 2023 Issue

Opiate Sensitivity in Fruit Flies

Published on Apr 25, 2023




Substance use disorder is a debilitating clinical condition in which behavioral dependence results from biological, environmental, genetic, and psychosocial factors. An epidemic surrounding the use and abuse of opioids is ravaging the world. While considerable efforts have explored the social drivers of addiction, a deeper understanding of biological causes and genetic vulnerabilities, preventative interventions, and effective treatments, have all proven elusive. This perspective article aims to remind readers that addictive natural compounds such as cocaine, nicotine, cathinone, or morphine, evolved as defensive metabolites to deter insect herbivory. The molecular mechanisms underlying motivational seeking and learning/reward show remarkable conservation since their early emergence in bilateral metazoans. An extended coevolutionary arms race subsequently weaponized these compounds into disruptors of learning, motivation, and incentivized attention. When plant chemical defenses attack insect physiology, humans are rendered susceptible due to strong conservation in the underlying molecular machinery. This perspective addresses the paradox that opiates were shaped to target insect neuropharmacology, even though this taxon appears to lack the recognized opioid receptor clade of mammals. We argue that the link is to be found in the allatostatin receptor, a basal ortholog of opioid receptors. Moreover, preliminary evidence indicates that morphine reduces Drosophila feeding and locomotion, concordant with a purported role as a defensive compound reducing herbivory. An implementation via allatostatin-mediated mechanisms is likely. This research argues for a broader heuristic perspective of substance abuse and a recognition of the evolutionary constraints that have likely shaped the biological drivers of opioid sensitivity and of its behavioral targets.

Author info

Nabil Karnib, Brandon Long, Moira Van Staaden, Jon Sprague, F. Hall, Daniel Jacobson, Robert Huber

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