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Frontocerebellar abnormalities may signal increased risk for alcohol problems
Brain circuits that connect the frontal lobes with the cerebellum are damaged in chronic alcoholics and may contribute to cognitive deficits in these individuals. But whether these “frontocerebellar” abnormalities are present in individuals at high risk for alcoholism before they start using alcohol is unknown. To find out, scientists led by Dr. Megan Herting at the Oregon Health and Science University conducted brain imaging studies with young people whose positive family history for alcoholism put them at high risk for the disease. Using two different brain imaging techniques -- functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging – the researchers found that family history positive adolescents who had never used alcohol had fewer functional connections between areas of the prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum than did youth with no family history for alcoholism. The researchers also found that the reduction in functional connectivity was associated with reduced white matter structural integrity in other parts of the frontocerebellar circuitry. Taken together, the findings suggest that frontocerebellar abnormalities may be a biological marker of risk for alcohol use disorders.