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Neuroimage. 2006 Sep;32(3):1465-71. Epub 2006 Jul 26.

Brain atrophy in long-term abstinent alcoholics who demonstrate impairment on a simulated gambling task.

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Neurobehavioral Research Inc., 201 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera, CA 94925, USA.


We recently demonstrated impairment on the Simulated Gambling Task (SGT) in long-term abstinent alcoholics (AbsAlc). Brain regions that have been shown to be necessary for intact SGT performance are the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the amygdala; patients with VMPFC or amygdalar damage demonstrate SGT impairments similar to those of substance abusing populations. We examined these brain regions, using T1-weighted MRIs, in the 101 participants from our previous study using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). VBM was performed using a modification we developed [Fein, G., Landman, B., Tran, H., Barakos, J., Moon, K., Di Sclafani, V., Shumway, R., 2006. Statistical parametric mapping of brain morphology: sensitivity is dramatically increased by using brain-extracted images as inputs. Neuroimage] of Baron's procedure, [], in which we use skull-stripped images as input. We also restricted the analysis to a ROI consisting of the amygdala and VMPFC as defined by the Talairach Daemon resource. Compared to the controls, the AbsAlc participants had significant foci of reduced gray matter density within the amygdala. Thus, SGT decision-making deficits are associated with reduced gray matter in the amygdala, a brain region previously implicated in similar decision-making impairments in neurological samples. This structurally based abnormality may be the result of long-term alcohol abuse or dependence, or it may reflect a pre-existing factor that predisposes one to severe alcoholism. From an image analysis perspective, this work demonstrates the increased sensitivity that results from using skull-stripped inputs and from restricting the analysis to a ROI. Without both of these methodological advances, no statistically significant finding would have been forthcoming from this work.

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