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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1994 Apr;18(2):324-32.

Eye movement effects of diazepam in sons of alcoholic fathers and male control subjects.

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University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Harborview Medical Center 98104.


Both animal and human studies suggest that the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor complex may be involved in the acute effects of ethanol, as well as the development of tolerance and dependence with chronic ethanol use. The current study was performed to assess sensitivity to benzodiazepines, and thus the functional sensitivity of the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor system, in subjects at high risk for alcoholism. Sons of alcoholic fathers (SOAs; n = 27) were compared with male controls without a family history of alcoholism (n = 23) in response to diazepam versus placebo. SOAs and controls received four logarithmically increasing doses of intravenous diazepam or placebo in randomized order on 2 days at least 1 week apart. Effects of diazepam were assessed using two eye movement tasks, peak saccadic eye movement velocity, and average smooth pursuit eye movement gain, which provide reliable, quantitative measures of benzodiazepine effects. In addition, memory, self-rated sedation, and pleasurable drug effects were measured. In comparison with control subjects, SOAs displayed significantly less diazepam effects on peak saccade velocity, average smooth pursuit gain, memory, and self-rated sedation, but significantly greater pleasurable drug effects. Differences in response to diazepam between SOAs and male controls may reflect altered functional sensitivity of the central GABA-benzodiazepine receptor system or a more general difference between groups in the effects of CNS active or sedating drugs.

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