The results of in vivo neuroimaging studies assessing whether and where brain white matter damage occurs in alcoholic women is controversial. To address this controversy, we examined regional white matter macrostructure and microstructure, the latter of which may be more sensitive to the detection of subtle fiber disruption than gross measures of size. Accordingly, we used conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to quantify regional callosal size and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to examine intravoxel coherence (fractional anisotropy, FA) and intervoxel coherence (C) of white matter of the genu and splenium of the corpus callosum and of the centrum semiovale in 12 detoxified alcoholic women and 18 control women. Additional analyses examined sex differences in FA and C in alcoholic women compared with alcoholic men. Despite absence of group differences in regional areas of callosal macrostructure, the alcoholic women had lower FA and C in genu and centrum semiovale than the control group of women. These measures also correlated with total lifetime consumption of alcohol and performance on a test of visual search in the alcoholic women. Sex comparisons revealed similar extents of FA abnormality in the genu and centrum semiovale in alcoholic men and women and differential effects in other DTI measures, with abnormalities present in splenium FA and C in the men and abnormalities present in centrum C in the women. These results provide in vivo evidence for disruption of white matter microstructure in alcoholic women not necessarily detectable with coarser measures of white matter mass and perhaps antedating its appearance.
©2002 Elsevier Science (USA).