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[A review of the neuroimaging studies of alcoholism].

[Article in Japanese]

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National Hospital Organization, Kurihama Alcoholism Center, 5-3-1 Nobi, Yokosuka, Kanagawa 239-0841, Japan.


In this article, we reviewed brain damage seen in patients with alcohol dependence briefly focusing on neuroimaging studies. In uncomplicated alcoholic patients, a high incidence of cortical shrinkage and ventricular dilatation were reported using brain CT scans. In older alcoholics, prefrontal gray matter deficits were especially marked when compared with younger alcoholics. Reversibility of brain shrinkage is a common neuroimaging finding in patients with alcohol dependence and a study by Gazdinski et al. reported more rapid brain tissue gain during the first month of sobriety than in the following months. Another MRI study using deformation-based morphometry revealed significant shrinkage in the frontal and temporal lobes within 1 week of abstinence of alcoholic patients. This study followed participants for 8 months longitudinally and revealed that abstaining alcoholics recovered tissue volumes significantly faster than nonalcoholic controls in the parietal and frontal lobes and this study also revealed that when abstaining alcoholics were compared with relapsed alcoholics, additional regions with significantly greater recovery in abstainers were the temporal lobes, thalamus, brainstem, cerebellum, corpus callosum, anterior cingulate, insula, and subcortical white matter. Finally we introduced a MR spectroscopy (MRS) study on alcoholic patients. This study using proton MRS indicated that with short-term abstinence, cerebellar choline and frontomesial N-acetylaspartate (NAA) were significantly increased. Findings showing that a cerebellar choline increase and a frontomesial NAA increase were detected at stable water integrals and creatine concentrations, serum electrolytes and red blood cell indices suggest that early brain recovery through abstinence does not simply reflect rehydration. This might indicate that even the adult brain has capacities for regrowth and further understanding of the mechanisms of recovery of alcoholics' brains may result in a valuable model of brain regeneration with relevance for other disorders.

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