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Membrane lipid physiology and toxin catabolism underlie ethanol and acetic acid tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster
Kristi L. Montooth, Kyle T. Siebenthall, Andrew G. Clark


Drosophila melanogaster has evolved the ability to tolerate and utilize high levels of ethanol and acetic acid encountered in its rotting-fruit niche. Investigation of this phenomenon has focused on ethanol catabolism, particularly by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. Here we report that survival under ethanol and acetic acid stress in D. melanogaster from high- and low-latitude populations is an integrated consequence of toxin catabolism and alteration of physical properties of cellular membranes by ethanol. Metabolic detoxification contributed to differences in ethanol tolerance between populations and acclimation temperatures via changes in both alcohol dehydrogenase and acetyl-CoA synthetase mRNA expression and enzyme activity. Independent of changes in ethanol catabolism, rapid thermal shifts that change membrane fluidity had dramatic effects on ethanol tolerance. Cold temperature treatments upregulated phospholipid metabolism genes and enhanced acetic acid tolerance, consistent with the predicted effects of restoring membrane fluidity. Phospholipase D was expressed at high levels in all treatments that conferred enhanced ethanol tolerance, suggesting that this lipid-mediated signaling enzyme may enhance tolerance by sequestering ethanol in membranes as phophatidylethanol. These results reveal new candidate genes underlying toxin tolerance and membrane adaptation to temperature in Drosophila and provide insight into how interactions between these phenotypes may underlie the maintenance of latitudinal clines in ethanol tolerance.

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