That’s how my latest piece for Nature News starts. It’s obviously a cute result, but there’s some serious and intriguing science underlying it. These twin rewarding activities – sex and drinking – are linked by a chemical called neuropeptide F (NPF), which acts as a sort of currency of reward in the brain.
The study suggests that NPF is part of a system that acts like a ‘reward-thermostat’. If flies aren’t getting rewarding feelings from sex, their levels of NPF fall, and this compels them to get their kicks elsewhere, such as in a boozy meal.
Mammals also have a counterpart of NPF, known as NPY, which may play a similar role. It’s depleted in the brains of people who attempt suicide or suffer from PTSD, and some clinical trials are testing it as a way of dealing with addictions or mood disorders.