Structural and functional abnormalities found in brains of relapsed alcohol-dependent patients

September 20, 2012

Scientists at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have succeeded in coming closer to determining the risk of relapse in detoxified alcohol-dependent patients. Using an imaging process (magnetic resonance tomography) it was shown that particular regions in the brain demonstrate structural as well as functional abnormalities in relapsed alcohol-dependent patients. Study findings are published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

In the study conducted under the direction of Prof. Andreas Heinz, director of the Charité Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, scientists examined a group of 46 detoxified alcohol-dependent patients, in addition to a large control group. Structural imaging showed anatomical properties of brain substance, and the examination of functional signals in the brain were measured in reaction to alcohol-associated stimuli. After three months, patients were reexamined for eventual relapses; 30 study participants relapsed and 16 continued to be abstinent.

It was proven that relapse patients had increased loss of grey matter in particular regions of the forebrain. This section of the brain is known to be associated primarily with behavioral regulation and emotional control. Furthermore, measurement of functional in reaction to alcohol-associated stimuli showed that different were activated in relapsed patients than in patients who remained abstinent. These measurements show that sections of the brain in relapse patients were active that are associated primarily with directing attention to certain stimuli. In contrast, the abstinent patients demonstrated an activation of that are (among other functions) associated with processing of stimuli inducing aversion (aversive stimuli) or that are particularly important (salient stimuli).

"This characteristic in patients who remained abstinent possibly acts as a warning signal and prevents potential relapse when confronted with alcohol," said Anne Beck, primary author of the study. Future studies could examine these aspects in greater depth and take eventual factors of alcohol dependency into consideration, like for example, genetic mechanisms. Thus people with a particularly high risk of relapse could be identified and systematically supported with therapy.

Explore further: White matter of abstinent alcoholics recovers over time

More information: Beck A, Wüstenberg T, Genauck A, Wrase J, Schlagenhauf F, Smolka MN, Mann K, Heinz A. Effect of brain structure, brain function, and brain connectivity on relapse in alcohol-dependent patients. Arch Gen Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.2026

Related Stories

White matter of abstinent alcoholics recovers over time

May 21, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Based on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), the microstructural changes seen in the genu and body of the corpus callosum in recently detoxified alcohol-dependent patients are found to improve after one year of ...

For depression, relapsers go to the front of the brain

August 22, 2011
Depression is increasingly recognized as an illness that strikes repeatedly over the lifespan, creating cycles of relapse and recovery. This sobering knowledge has prompted researchers to search for markers of relapse risk ...

Study shows brain's response to sadness can predict relapses into depression

May 26, 2011
A University of Toronto study shows that when formerly depressed people experience mild states of sadness, their brain's response can predict if they will become depressed again.

Recommended for you

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

For older adults, volunteering could improve brain function

October 17, 2017
Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health ...

Magic mushrooms may 'reset' the brains of depressed patients

October 13, 2017
Patients taking psilocybin to treat depression show reduced symptoms weeks after treatment following a 'reset' of their brain activity.

Living near a forest keeps your amygdala healthier

October 13, 2017
A study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development has investigated the relationship between the availability of nature near city dwellers' homes and their brain health. Its findings are relevant for urban ...

Scientists researching drugs that could improve brain function in people with schizophrenia

October 12, 2017
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are testing if drugs known as HDAC inhibitors improve cognition in patients with schizophrenia who have been treated with the antipsychotic drug clozapine.

Researchers find a fine timeline between delusion and reality

October 12, 2017
The line between reality and delusion may be just a matter of time, a new Yale study suggests.

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.