Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system to identify therapeutics for alcohol use disorders

Simon N. Katner, Kristin E. Bredhold, Kevin B. Steagall, Richard L. Bell, Bethany S. Neal-Beliveau, Mi C. Cheong, Eric A. Engleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) cause serious problems in society and few effective treatments are available. Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is an excellent invertebrate model to study the neurobiological basis of human behavior with a conserved, fully tractable genome, and a short generation time for fast generation of data at a fraction of the cost of other organisms. C. elegans demonstrate movement toward, and concentration-dependent self-exposure to various psychoactive drugs. The discovery of opioid receptors in C. elegans provided the impetus to test the hypothesis that C. elegans may be used as a medications screen to identify new AUD treatments. We tested the effects of naltrexone, an opioid antagonist and effective treatment for AUDs, on EtOH preference in C. elegans. Six-well agar test plates were prepared with EtOH placed in a target zone on one side and water in the opposite target zone of each well. Worms were treated with naltrexone before EtOH preference testing and then placed in the center of each well. Wild-type worms exhibited a concentration-dependent preference for 50, 70 and 95% EtOH. Naltrexone blocked acute EtOH preference, but had no effect on attraction to food or benzaldehyde in wild-type worms. Npr-17 opioid receptor knockout mutants did not display a preference for EtOH. In contrast, npr-17 opioid receptor rescue mutants exhibited significant EtOH preference behavior, which was attenuated by naltrexone. Chronic EtOH exposure induced treatment resistance and compulsive-like behavior. These data indicate that C. elegans can serve as a model system to identify compounds to treat AUDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-16
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Jun 3 2019


  • Alcohol
  • Behavior
  • Nematode
  • Preference
  • Reinforcement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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