Sustained or repeated exposure to sedating drugs such as alcohol, triggers homeostatic adaptations in the brain that lead to the development of drug tolerance and dependence. These adaptations involve long-term changes in the transcription of drug-responsive genes as well as an epigenetic restructuring of chromosomal regions that is thought to signal and maintain the altered transcriptional state.
Alcohol-induced epigenetic changes have been shown to be important in the long-term adaptation that leads to alcohol tolerance and dependence endophenotypes. A major constraint impeding progress is that alcohol produces a surfeit of changes in gene expression, most of which may not make any meaningful contribution to the ethanol response under study.
A research team now used a novel genomic epigenetic approach to find genes relevant for functional alcohol tolerance by exploiting the commonalities of two chemically distinct alcohols. In Drosophila melanogaster, ethanol and benzyl alcohol induce mutual cross-tolerance, indicating that they share a common mechanism for producing tolerance. They surveyed the genome-wide changes in histone acetylation that occur in response to these drugs. Each drug induces modifications in a large number of genes. The genes that respond similarly to either treatment, however, represent a subgroup enriched for genes important for the common tolerance response. Genes were functionally tested for behavioral tolerance to the sedative effects of ethanol and benzyl alcohol using mutant and inducible RNAi stocks. The identified a network of genes that are essential for the development of tolerance to sedation by alcohol.