Alcohol intoxication effects on simulated driving: exploring alcohol-dose effects on brain activation using functional MRI

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 Nov;29(11):2097-17. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300543.


Driving while intoxicated is a major public health problem. We investigated impaired driving using a simulated driving skill game that presents an 'in-car' view of a road and a readout of speed. We explored brain activation and behavioral alterations from baseline at two blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). Participants received single-blind individualized doses of beverage alcohol designed to produce blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.04 and 0.08 or placebo. Scanning occurred on a 1.5 Tesla Philips MRI scanner after training to asymptote performance. Analysis was performed using independent component analysis (ICA) to isolate systematically nonoverlapping 'networks' and their time courses. Imaging results revealed seven separate driving-related brain networks with different time courses. Several significant findings were observed for the imaging data. First, dose-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) changes were revealed in orbitofrontal (OF) and motor (but not cerebellar) regions; visual and medial frontal regions were unaffected. Second, cerebellar regions were significantly associated with driving behavior in a dose-dependent manner. Finally, a global disruptive effect of alcohol on the ICA time courses was observed with highly significant differences in OF and motor regions. Alcohol thus demonstrated some behavioral effects and unique, disruptive, dose-dependent effects on fMRI signal within several brain circuits. The fMRI data also suggest that the deficits observed in alcohol intoxication may be modulated primarily through OF/anterior cingulate, motor and cerebellar regions as opposed to attentional areas in frontoparietal cortex.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / metabolism*
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Single-Blind Method


  • Ethanol