Visual P3a in male subjects at high risk for alcoholism

Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Jul 15;46(2):281-91. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(98)00247-9.


Background: Voltage of the P300 component of event-related potentials (ERPs) has been proposed as a phenotypic marker of risk for alcoholism. P3a elicited by intrusive events is important in the context of deficits in inhibition found during psychophysiological and behavioral evaluations in children of alcoholics.

Methods: ERPs were recorded from a group of adult children of alcoholics (n = 26) and controls (n = 23) with a three-stimulus visual oddball paradigm. The task required a difficult perceptual discrimination between a frequent (.80) vertical line and an infrequent (.10) 2 degrees tilted line (target). An easily discriminable nontarget infrequent horizontal line also occurred (.10). Subjects were required to press a button to the target. P3a was compared using mixed-model ANCOVAs at 31 sites organized in 5 scalp regions. Current source density (CSD) maps were also analyzed.

Results: High-risk (HR) subjects manifested reduced P3a amplitudes compared to controls at frontal, central, parietal, and temporal electrodes. CSD analyses supported these findings with group differences found for all the scalp regions.

Conclusions: The results are discussed in relation to previous HR studies. P3a reductions may be related to deficits in neuronal inhibition during stimulus processing. These results suggest that P3a amplitude may be important as a marker for vulnerability to alcoholism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology