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Biol Psychiatry. 2006 Feb 15;59(4):364-72. Epub 2005 Aug 25.

Supratentorial profile of white matter microstructural integrity in recovering alcoholic men and women.

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  • 1Neuroscience Program, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA 94025,



Postmortem and in vivo studies consistently report degeneration of brain white matter in alcohol-dependent men and women. The full extent of the white matter involvement in uncomplicated alcoholism, however, is unknown, yet knowledge of the distribution of white matter degradation might provide clues to mechanisms underlying the pathology.


To examine whether the white matter involvement is widespread or, alternatively, is regionally restricted in uncomplicated alcoholism, we used in vivo magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to quantify the microstructure of brain tissue. Accordingly, we acquired DTI data in 57 alcoholics (40 men, 17 women) who had been sober, on average, for 3 months and 74 demographically-matched control subjects (32 men, 42 women). Alcoholic men had consumed about twice as much alcohol in their lifetimes as the alcoholic women. Supratentorial white matter fractional anisotropy (FA), a DTI measure of intravoxel orientational coherence of tissue, was calculated across the full anterior-posterior extent of the brain in coronal sections, and a slice profile of the mean white matter FA was created for each subject. Group differences between alcoholics and control subjects were tested for each slice in three regions: the left and right hemispheres and a midsagittal sample; men and women were tested separately.


Alcoholic men and women each showed widespread FA deficits in all three regions relative to their gender-matched control subjects that were evident on a slice-by-slice basis. Furthermore, the number of slices showing FA deficits was significantly greater in the alcoholic men than women.


The widespread distribution of white matter deficits is in contrast to the highly regional-specific deficits seen in nutritional deficiency syndromes that can accompany alcoholism.

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