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Int J Psychophysiol. 2015 Nov;98(2 Pt 1):182-200. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2015.09.005. Epub 2015 Sep 18.

Reward processing deficits and impulsivity in high-risk offspring of alcoholics: A study of event-related potentials during a monetary gambling task.

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SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY, USA. Electronic address:
SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY, USA.
University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT, USA.
University of California at San Diego, CA, USA.
University of Iowa, IA, USA.



Individuals at high risk to develop alcoholism often manifest neurocognitive deficits as well as increased impulsivity. The goal of the present study is to elucidate reward processing deficits, externalizing disorders, and impulsivity as elicited by electrophysiological, clinical and behavioral measures in subjects at high risk for alcoholism from families densely affected by alcoholism in the context of brain maturation across age groups and gender.


Event-related potentials (ERPs) and current source density (CSD) during a monetary gambling task (MGT) were measured in 12-25 year old offspring (N=1864) of families in the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) Prospective study; the high risk (HR, N=1569) subjects were from families densely affected with alcoholism and the low risk (LR, N=295) subjects were from community families. Externalizing disorders and impulsivity scores were also compared between LR and HR groups.


HR offspring from older (16-25 years) male and younger (12-15 years) female subgroups showed lower P3 amplitude than LR subjects. The amplitude decrement was most prominent in HR males during the loss condition. Overall, P3 amplitude increase at anterior sites and decrease at posterior areas were seen in older compared to younger subjects, suggesting frontalization during brain maturation. The HR subgroups also exhibited hypofrontality manifested as weaker CSD activity during both loss and gain conditions at frontal regions. Further, the HR subjects had higher impulsivity scores and increased prevalence of externalizing disorders. P3 amplitudes during the gain condition were negatively correlated with impulsivity scores.


Older male and younger female HR offspring, compared to their LR counterparts, manifested reward processing deficits as indexed by lower P3 amplitude and weaker CSD activity, along with higher prevalence of externalizing disorders and higher impulsivity scores.


Reward related P3 is a valuable measure reflecting neurocognitive dysfunction in subjects at risk for alcoholism, as well as to characterize reward processing and brain maturation across gender and age group.


Alcohol use disorders; Brain maturation, hypofrontality; Current source density; Endophenotype; Family history of alcoholism; Frontalization; Impulsivity; P3; Reward processing

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