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eNeuro. 2019 Apr 9;6(2). pii: ENEURO.0044-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0044-19.2019. eCollection 2019 Mar-Apr.

Chronic Alcohol Drinking Slows Brain Development in Adolescent and Young Adult Nonhuman Primates.

Shnitko TA1,2, Liu Z1,2, Wang X1,2, Grant KA1,3, Kroenke CD1,2,3.

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Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton, Oregon 97006.
Advanced Imaging Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon 97239.
Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon 97239.


The transition from adolescence to adulthood is associated with brain remodeling in the final stages of developmental growth. It is also a period when a large proportion of this age group engages in binge alcohol drinking (occasional consumption of four to five drinks leading to intoxication) and heavy alcohol drinking (binge drinking on ≥5 d in a month). Here we report on magnetic resonance imaging of developmental changes in the brain occurring during late adolescence and early adulthood (3.5-7.5 years of age) in a rhesus macaque model of alcohol self-administration. Monkeys were imaged prior to alcohol exposure, and following ∼6 and ∼12 months of daily (22 h/d) access to ethanol and water. The results revealed that the brain volume increases by 1 ml/1.87 years throughout the late adolescence and early adulthood in controls. Heavy alcohol drinking reduced the rate of brain growth by 0.25 ml/year per 1 g/kg daily ethanol. Cortical volume increased throughout this period with no significant effect of alcohol drinking on the cortical growth rate. In subcortical regions, age-dependent increases in the volumes of globus pallidus, thalamus, brainstem, and cerebellum were observed. Heavy drinking attenuated the growth rate of the thalamus. Thus, developmental brain volume changes in the span of late adolescence to young adulthood in macaques is altered by excessive alcohol, an insult that may be linked to the continuation of heavy drinking throughout later adult life.


brain growth; ethanol; magnetic resonance imaging; self administration; thalamus; underage drinking; white matter


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