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Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Jun 1;61(11):1306-9. Epub 2007 Feb 15.

Reduced amygdala activation in young adults at high risk of alcoholism: studies from the Oklahoma family health patterns project.

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  • 1Neuroimaging Core, Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas, USA.



Risk of alcoholism is higher in those with a positive family history (FH+) and in those showing behavioral disinhibition, possibly reflecting altered limbic system function.


We performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 17 nonabusing young adults, 9 with FH+ and high in disinhibition versus 8 with a negative family history (FH-) and low in disinhibition. We probed limbic system reactivity with a recognition task using faces expressing fear versus geometric objects.


Subjects with FH- had robust activation to the faces in the region of the right and left amygdalar complexes (p's < .05), while subjects with FH+ had no such activation (p's > .46). The blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the region of the amygdala was correlated with scores on the self-report measure of temperament in the combined groups (r = .51, p < .04).


Behaviorally disinhibited temperament, found in many with FH+, may be associated with amygdalar hyporesponsiveness and a failure to avoid risky decisions, increasing the person's liability for alcohol abuse.

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