Mutant worms generated at a lab at the University of Texas may provide a pathway to prevent people from becoming intoxicated from alcohol. Worms can be genetically-modified to withstand alcoholism, by never getting inebriated.
A group of neuroscientists discovered this while investigating potential treatments for alcohol withdrawal. It’s a biological way to prevent the feelings of inebriation. There is hope, in the team’s own words, of creating a “James Bond” anti-inebriation drug one day from this discovery.
It sounds ridiculous, but this suggestion has been made because the worm in question, Caenorhabditis elegans, was engineered to express a modified neuronal molecule — or “modified alcohol target” — that naturally binds to alcohol in the brain, in humans. The channel within the molecule that was altered, known as BK channel SLO-1, is also involved in other processes in the body, including the regulation of blood vessels and neurons. However the Texas team managed to make an alteration that only affects its reaction to alcohol — it essentially made the channel within the molecule insensitive to alcohol, while allowing it to maintain all other regular functions.
“Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol abuse disorders,” commented Jon Pierce-Shimomura, assistant professor in the university’s College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Research. “However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit.”
It’s one thing to treat alcoholism by removing what is presumed to be one of its addictive effects — inebriation. However, it could also cause serious harm to anyone addicted to the taste or habit, that continues drinking because they do not become inebriated. The drug obviously doesn’t counteract any harm that consumption would do to the individual’s liver.
The team explains that the worms are not a great model for other contributory facets of alcohol addiction, including cravings and tolerance. For that, mice could trial the modifications.
They were, however, as shown by these delightful images and cartoon explanations, an excellent model for the inebriating effects of alcohol. Note, the wiggly, free-flowing form of the worm on the left, and the rigid, largely incapacitated stiff line of the poor fellow on the right. Not fun, is it? The worms also stop laying eggs when drunk, so a glut builds up inside their body. So, they wriggle slowly, wiggling is at a minimum, and they are full of eggs. No, alcohol is really not fun. By contrast, the smug worms with the modified molecule happily wriggled along, despite their alcohol consumption.