Brain morphometry and cognitive performance in detoxified alcohol-dependents with preserved psychosocial functioning

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007 Feb;32(2):429-38. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301219. Epub 2006 Oct 18.


The extent of structural brain damage and related cognitive deficits has been little described in alcohol-dependent individuals with preserved social functioning. Thus, we investigated the relationship between regional alterations, executive performance, and drinking history. Volumes of gray and white matter were assessed using magnetic resonance imaging voxel-based morphometry in healthy men and in detoxified alcohol-dependent men with good psychosocial functioning. Their executive performance was assessed using neuropsychological tests. Regression analyses were carried out in the regions in which volume differences were detected. Decreases in gray matter were detected bilaterally in alcohol-dependents in the dorsolateral frontal cortex (up to 20% lower), and to a lesser extent in the temporal cortex, insula, thalamus, and cerebellum. Decreases in white matter volume were widespread, being up to 10% in corpus callosum. The degradation of neuropsychological performance correlated with gray matter volume decreases in the frontal lobe, insula, hippocampus, thalami and cerebellum, and with white matter decrease in the brainstem. An early age at first drinking was associated with decreased gray matter volumes in the cerebellum, brainstem (pons), and frontal regions. Regional alteration in gray and white matter volume was associated with impairment of executive function despite preserved social and somatic functioning in detoxified patients. Besides involving frontal regions, these findings are consistent with a cerebello-thalamo-cortical model of impaired executive functions in alcohol-dependent individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / complications*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation
  • Atrophy / chemically induced
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Atrophy / psychology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / chemically induced
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Degeneration / chemically induced
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / psychology
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / drug effects
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Social Behavior
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / pathology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol