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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037394. Epub 2012 May 18.

A low concentration of ethanol impairs learning but not motor and sensory behavior in Drosophila larvae.

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Section of Neurobiology, Institute for Neuroscience, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States of America.


Drosophila melanogaster has proven to be a useful model system for the genetic analysis of ethanol-associated behaviors. However, past studies have focused on the response of the adult fly to large, and often sedating, doses of ethanol. The pharmacological effects of low and moderate quantities of ethanol have remained understudied. In this study, we tested the acute effects of low doses of ethanol (∼7 mM internal concentration) on Drosophila larvae. While ethanol did not affect locomotion or the response to an odorant, we observed that ethanol impaired associative olfactory learning when the heat shock unconditioned stimulus (US) intensity was low but not when the heat shock US intensity was high. We determined that the reduction in learning at low US intensity was not a result of ethanol anesthesia since ethanol-treated larvae responded to the heat shock in the same manner as untreated animals. Instead, low doses of ethanol likely impair the neuronal plasticity that underlies olfactory associative learning. This impairment in learning was reversible indicating that exposure to low doses of ethanol does not leave any long lasting behavioral or physiological effects.

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