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Brain. 2015 Jan;138(Pt 1):69-79. doi: 10.1093/brain/awu305. Epub 2014 Nov 2.

Reduced anterior insula, enlarged amygdala in alcoholism and associated depleted von Economo neurons.

Author information

1
1 Section on Brain Electrophysiology and Imaging, Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.
2
2 Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.
3
1 Section on Brain Electrophysiology and Imaging, Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA rezam@nih.gov.

Abstract

The insula, a structure involved in higher order representation of interoceptive states, has recently been implicated in drug craving and social stress. Here, we performed brain magnetic resonance imaging to measure volumes of the insula and amygdala, a structure with reciprocal insular connections, in 26 alcohol-dependent patients and 24 healthy volunteers (aged 22-56 years, nine females in each group). We used an established morphometry method to quantify total and regional insular volumes. Volumetric measurements of the amygdala were obtained using a model-based segmentation/registration tool. In alcohol-dependent patients, anterior insula volumes were bilaterally reduced compared to healthy volunteers (left by 10%, right by 11%, normalized to total brain volumes). Furthermore, alcohol-dependent patients, compared with healthy volunteers, had bilaterally increased amygdala volumes. The left amygdala was increased by 28% and the right by 29%, normalized to total brain volumes. Post-mortem studies of the anterior insula showed that the reduced anterior insular volume may be associated with a population of von Economo neurons, which were 60% diminished in subjects with a history of alcoholism (n = 6) as compared to subjects without a history of alcoholism (n = 6) (aged 32-56 years, all males). The pattern of neuroanatomical change observed in our alcohol-dependent patients might result in a loss of top-down control of amygdala function, potentially contributing to impaired social cognition as well as an inability to control negatively reinforced alcohol seeking and use.

KEYWORDS:

MRI; alcoholism; amygdala; insula; von Economo neurons

PMID:
25367022
PMCID:
PMC4285187
DOI:
10.1093/brain/awu305
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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