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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1993 Feb;17(1):2-11.

Brain lesions in alcoholics.

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1
Department of Neurology (Neuroscience), Harvard Medical School, West Roxbury, Massachusetts 02132.

Abstract

Brain lesions in alcoholics are multifactorial in origin. Ethanol neurotoxicity, Wernicke's encephalopathy, hepatocerebral degeneration, head trauma, central pontine myelinolysis, Marchiafava-Bignami syndrome, pellagra, and premorbid pathological conditions, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, may all contribute to cognitive dysfunction in alcoholics. With the exception of ethanol neurotoxicity, all of these conditions are associated with specific neuropathological lesions. Wernicke's encephalopathy, the neurological syndrome of thiamine deficiency, is frequently overlooked during life and may cause global dementia as well as the more familiar Korsakoff's amnestic syndrome. Distinguishing ethanol neurotoxicity from nutritional deficiency can be facilitated by magnetic resonance imaging, which can visualize some of the specific macroscopic lesions of Wernicke's encephalopathy, central pontine myelinolysis, cerebellar degeneration, and Marchiafava-Bignami syndrome. Computerized morphometric studies of alcoholic brains have revealed ventricular enlargement, selective loss of subcortical white matter, and alterations in neuronal size, number, architecture, and synaptic complexity. These lesions tend to be more severe when there is coexisting nutritional deficiency or liver disease, suggesting that ethanol neurotoxicity may not be the sole cause. A search for similar lesions in nonalcoholic Wernicke's encephalopathy and nonalcoholic liver disease will help determine the specificity of these lesions.

PMID:
8452204
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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