skip navigation
Vol. LVII, No. 9
May 6, 2005

previous story

next story
Solowey Awardee Heberlein To Lecture, May 12

Dr. Ulrike Heberlein  
You know the advice — don't drink on an empty stomach. Now Dr. Ulrike Heberlein and her group at the University of California, San Francisco, think they have the basis for this slogan. On Thursday, May 12, at noon in Lipsett Amphitheater, Bldg. 10, Heberlein will be honored for her work by receiving the 2005 Mathilde Solowey Lecture Award in the Neurosciences and delivering a lecture entitled, "Drugs, Flies and Videotape: Can Fruit Flies Teach Us About Drug Addiction?"

By studying drunken fruit flies, Heberlein and colleagues discovered that the hormone insulin, which surges after we eat, may make the brain less sensitive to alcohol intoxication. If confirmed in humans, the finding also suggests a promising way to treat alcoholism using drugs that control insulin activity. The UCSF group showed that when the normal function of insulin-like molecules in the brain of fruit flies is reduced, the intoxicating effect of alcohol increases.

In her pioneering 10-year research effort to determine the genetic basis of alcohol-induced behavior, Heberlein has employed an apparatus she calls the inebriometer, in which normal fruit flies and those with genetic mutations are placed at the top of a cylinder and exposed to ethanol. The genetic contribution to alcohol sensitivity is measured by how quickly the fruit flies lose their grip and fall to the bottom of the device. Earlier research demonstrated that fruit flies and humans display many of the same vulnerabilities and behavioral responses to alcohol.

The inebriometer intoxicates hapless flies.  

Heberlein and her colleagues showed that the molecule protein kinase A modulates sensitivity to alcohol. When its activity is inhibited, the amount of alcohol needed to cause inebriation decreases. Her group had also examined different regions of the fruit fly brain to determine where protein kinase A had its effect. In the new research, they zeroed in on a small group of neurons in the brain that produce so-called insulin-like peptides, or DILPs.

In 1999, President Clinton named Heberlein as one of 60 young researchers receiving Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers.

Heberlein received her Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1987 from the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to the PECASE award, she has received a McKnight Investigator Award. She has published papers in Cell, Nature and Nature Neuroscience. She is currently a professor in the department of anatomy, UCSF.

For more information call the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, Inc. at (301) 496-7975 or Dr. Miles Herkenham at (301) 496-8287.

back to top of page