The utility of neurophysiological markers in the study of alcoholism

Clin Neurophysiol. 2005 May;116(5):993-1018. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2004.12.016.


Objective: This review attempts to differentiate neuroelectric measures (electroencephalogram (EEG), event-related potentials (ERPs) and event-related oscillations (EROs)) related to acute and chronic effects of alcohol on the brain from those that reflect underlying deficits related to the predisposition to develop alcoholism and related disorders. The utility of these neuroelectric measures as endophenotypes for psychiatric genetics is evaluated.

Methods: This article reviews the main findings of EEG and ERP abnormalities in alcoholics, offspring of alcoholics at high risk to develop alcoholism and the electrophysiological effects of alcohol on high risk compared to low-risk offspring. It highlights findings using EROs, a fast developing tool in examining brain function and cognition. It also reviews evidence of genetic findings related to these electrophysiological measures and their relationship to clinical diagnosis.

Results: Many of these abnormal neuroelectric measures are under genetic control, may precede the development of alcoholism, and may be markers of a predisposition toward the development of a spectrum of disinhibitory conditions including alcoholism. Genetic loci underlying some neuroelectic measures that involve neurotransmitter systems of the brain have been identified.

Conclusions: Quantitative neuroelectric measures (EEG, ERPs, EROs) provide valuable endophenotypes in the study of genetic risk to develop alcoholism and related disorders.

Significance: Genetic studies of neuroelectric endophenotypes offer a powerful strategy for identifying susceptibility genes for developing psychiatric disorders, and provide novel insights into etiological factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*


  • Ethanol