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Brain Res. 2013 Jan 25;1492:53-62. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.11.021. Epub 2012 Nov 22.

Centrally-mediated sensory information processing is impacted with increased alcohol consumption in college-aged individuals.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Alcohol consumption can have an impact on a variety of centrally-mediated functions of the nervous system, and some aspects of sensory perception can be altered as a result of long-term alcohol use. In order to assess the potential impact of alcohol intake on sensory information processing, metrics of sensory perception (simple and choice reaction time; static and dynamic threshold detection; amplitude discrimination with and without pre-exposure to conditioning stimulation) were tested in college-aged subjects (18 to 26 years of age) across a broad range of levels of alcohol consumption. The analysis indicated no detectable associations between reaction time and threshold measures with alcohol consumption. However, measures of adaptation to short duration (0.5s) conditioning stimuli were significantly associated with alcohol consumption: the impact of a confounding conditioning stimulus on amplitude discriminative capacity was comparable to values reported in previous studies on healthy controls (28.9±8.6) for light drinkers while the same adaptation metric for heavy drinkers (consuming greater than 60 drinks per month) was significantly reduced (8.9±7.1). The results suggest that while some of the sensory perceptual metrics which are normally impacted in chronic alcoholism (e.g., reaction time and threshold detection) were relatively insensitive to change with increased alcohol consumption in young non-alcoholic individuals, other metrics, which are influenced predominantly by centrally-mediated mechanisms, demonstrate a deviation from normative values with increased consumption. Results of this study suggest that higher levels of alcohol consumption may be associated with alterations in centrally-mediated neural mechanisms in this age group.

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