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Researchers Slapped Flies To Study the Effects of Concussions

Update Date: Oct 15, 2013 03:13 PM EDT

Even though fruit flies are tiny insects, researchers have successfully used them to study the human brain. Due to the fact that fruit flies can unveil a lot about human neurological problems, geneticist Barry Ganetzky from the University of Wisconsin-Madison medical school decided to induce concussions and brain damage in fruit flies. By studying the effects these injuries have on the fly's brain, researchers hope that they can learn more about the consequences of concussions in humans.

"They [fruit flies] have been used for study of learning and memory; they have been used to study models of epilepsy; they have been used to study circadian rhythm; they have been used to study sleep, and they have been used to study addiction," Ganetzky said according to the Los Angeles Times. "At a fundamental level, a brain cell is a brain cell. If there's some damage to it, it shouldn't make any difference if that damage is occurring because it's inside the head of a fly or inside the head of a human."

For this study, Ganetzky used Drosophila melanogaster flies. Ganetzky was interested in slapping flies against an object to induce concussions. By studying the symptoms and effects of the concussion, Ganetzky believed that this research could open up ways of preventing symptoms and curbing dementia associated with concussions and head injuries. Ganetzky approached his colleague David Wassarman who suggested they build a machine that would be able to measure the effects more numerically.

The research team proceeded to make a device that would throw vials of the flies against a foam wall at 6.7 miles per hour. This speed is strong enough to render the flies unconscious. The researchers recorded the age of the flies at the time of the injury and the number of injuries associated with neurodegeneration risk. The researchers found that concussions activated an innate immune response in the flies that was similar to humans. These responses in humans have been tied to degenerative diseases in the brain.

The researchers also looked at 47 genetic lines of flies. They found that the correlation between the threshold for death and the number times flies were slapped across a foam pad was linked to certain genes. The researchers believe that studying these genes in humans can open up answers to many brain diseases. It could potentially help researchers create ways to limit the negative effects of concussions as well.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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