Differential activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and caudate nucleus during a gambling simulation in persons with a family history of alcoholism: studies from the Oklahoma Family Health Patterns Project

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009 Feb 1;100(1-2):17-23. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.08.019. Epub 2008 Nov 20.


Individuals with a family history of alcoholism (FH+) are at enhanced risk of developing an alcohol or other substance use disorder relative to those without this history (FH-). Recent studies comparing FH+ and FH- individuals have revealed differences in cognition, emotion processing, sociability, and decision-making. These differences suggest possible altered brain functioning in FH+ individuals that may play a crucial role in vulnerability to substance use disorders. In the present study, 15 FH+ and 19 FH- individuals performed the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a simulated card game requiring integration of payoff-to-penalty ratios, while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. All participants performed the task more conservatively as the session progressed, and the FH groups achieved similar payoffs by the end of the game. Imaging revealed a distributed network of brain regions that was engaged when subjects performed this task, including the right inferior frontal and postcentral gyri, left parahippocampal gyrus, insula and precuneous cortices, left inferior and superior parietal lobules, left lentiform nucleus and bilateral culmen, claustrum, lingual gyri and cerebellar tonsils. Despite a lack of behavioral differences between groups, the FH+ participants showed significantly more activation in the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and left caudate nucleus. These findings correspond to models of risk in FH+ persons that postulate biases in brain decision-making systems as underlying elevated risk for alcoholism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / genetics
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Caudate Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cohort Studies
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / metabolism*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oklahoma
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Young Adult