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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2010 Jul;34(7):1162-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01193.x. Epub 2010 May 7.

Acute ethanol effects on brain activation in low- and high-level responders to alcohol.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, USA.



A low level of response (LR) to alcohol is an important endophenotype associated with an increased risk of alcoholism. However, little is known about how neural functioning may differ between individuals with low and high LRs to alcohol. This study examined whether LR group effects on neural activity varied as a function of acute alcohol consumption.


A total of 30 matched high- and low-LR pairs (N = 60 healthy young adults) were recruited from the University of California, San Diego, and administered a structured diagnostic interview and laboratory alcohol challenge followed by two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sessions under placebo and alcohol conditions, in randomized order. Task performance and blood oxygen level-dependent response contrast to high relative to low working memory load in an event-related visual working memory (VWM) task were examined across 120 fMRI sessions.


Both LR groups performed similarly on the VWM task across conditions. A significant LR group by condition interaction effect was observed in inferior frontal and cingulate regions, such that alcohol attenuated the LR group differences found under placebo (p < 0.05). The LR group by condition effect remained even after controlling for cerebral blood flow, age, and typical drinking quantity.


Alcohol had differential effects on brain activation for low- and high-LR individuals within frontal and cingulate regions. These findings represent an additional step in the search for physiological correlates of a low LR and identify brain regions that may be associated with the low LR response.

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