Alcoholism and HIV infection have different effects on visuomotor procedural memory processes

July 23, 2012

The different effects on memory processes by chronic alcoholism and HIV infection likely reflect the specific neuropathology associated with each condition: frontocerebellar dysfunction in alcoholism and frontostriatal dysfunction in HIV infection. A study of the separate and combined contribution of injury related to chronic alcoholism and HIV infection has found they differently affect the processes involved in procedural learning and memory of visuomotor information.

Results will be published in the October 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

" and affect some different and some overlapping brain systems," explained Edith V. Sullivan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine as well as corresponding author for the study. "In general, alcoholism can disrupt hippocampal-limbic and frontocerebellar systems functions, and underlie difficulties in explicit – meaning learning of new information – particularly learning of visual information. infection can disrupt frontostriatal systems and underlie difficulties in working memory – meaning ability to hold information in mind for a short period of time so that a person can work effectively with that information – such as mental arithmetic."

Sullivan said that visuomotor procedural memory is used when engaging in activities that require vision, spatial orientation, motor coordination, and motor memory – such as driving a car, riding a bike, and using a computer mouse.

"This study is an example of the process by which research with clinical populations provides critical insight regarding the integration of neural systems more generally," added Sara Jo Nixon, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Florida. "In addition, this work exemplifies the fact that in attempting to 'understand' the neurobehavioral compromise associated with brain insult, it is insufficient to apply general statements regarding overall performance deficits. Instead, we must examine sub-/or component processes which are ultimately integrated in complex behavior. These researchers have demonstrated the clinical efficacy of identifying neurobehavioral patterns across conceptually integrated tasks."

Sullivan and her colleagues used the rotary pursuit task, a visuomotor speed and learning task that required participants to use a stylus to track a spot of light as it rotated counterclockwise on a turntable, to test four study groups: 29 men with chronic alcoholism, 23 men with HIV infection, 28 men with both conditions, and 20 healthy control men. All participants had four motor learning sessions, two sessions per day over two testing days, typically separated by one week.

"We found that chronic alcoholism and HIV infection differently affect the processes involved in procedural learning and memory of visuomotor information," said Sullivan. "Individuals with chronic alcoholism do not show as much learning over a short period of time – for example, within hours – as individuals with HIV infection on visuomotor tasks. By contrast, after a day or week, even without additional exposure to the material, alcoholics show significant improvement in task performance, and this 'consolidation' effect is not observed in the HIV individuals. Thus, it appears that individuals with chronic alcoholism and those with HIV infection can learn visuomotor information, but their patterns of learning differ from each other."

"In other words," said Nixon, "persons with HIV may require repeated and on-going practice on specific types of tasks, if they are to achieve maximum benefit. In contrast, those with alcoholism appear to demonstrate the benefit of the consolidation process; itself a process not fully understood."

Sullivan agreed: "Chronic alcoholism affects memory in many ways, including the ability to perform visually based motor tasks," she said. "Learning of such tasks may be best accomplished if training sessions were distributed across days and weeks rather than grouped within a single day, as appears to be enhanced with temporally distributed sessions across days."

Those individuals with both conditions experience "double jeopardy," note the study's authors.

"As we have often found in our cognitive and motor studies, individuals who have both chronic alcoholism and HIV infection achieve lower test scores, that is, have greater difficulty than either those with chronic alcoholism or HIV alone," Sullivan added. "Having both conditions puts an individual at heightened risk of cognitive problems, including visuomotor procedural problems."

Explore further: Alcoholism's short-term effects on memory functioning are harmful

Related Stories

Alcoholism's short-term effects on memory functioning are harmful

April 16, 2012
Alcoholism can disrupt memory functioning well before incurring the profound amnesia of Korsakoff's syndrome. For example, associative memory – used in remembering face-name associations – can be impaired in alcoholics. ...

Finger tapping shows that alcoholics may recruit other brain regions for simple tasks

November 15, 2011
Chronic drinking is associated with neurocognitive deficits due to neuropathological changes in the structure, metabolism, and function of the brain. One of the consequences of neuropathological brain abnormalities in the ...

Recommended for you

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.