Alcohol and the prefrontal cortex

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2010;91:289-320. doi: 10.1016/S0074-7742(10)91009-X.


The prefrontal cortex occupies the anterior portion of the frontal lobes and is thought to be one of the most complex anatomical and functional structures of the mammalian brain. Its major role is to integrate and interpret inputs from cortical and sub-cortical structures and use this information to develop purposeful responses that reflect both present and future circumstances. This includes both action-oriented sequences involved in obtaining rewards and inhibition of behaviors that pose undue risk or harm to the individual. Given the central role in initiating and regulating these often complex cognitive and behavioral responses, it is no surprise that alcohol has profound effects on the function of the prefrontal cortex. In this chapter, we review the basic anatomy and physiology of the prefrontal cortex and discuss what is known about the actions of alcohol on the function of this brain region. This includes a review of both the human and animal literature including information on the electrophysiological and behavioral effects that follow acute and chronic exposure to alcohol. The chapter concludes with a discussion of unanswered questions and areas needing further investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohols / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Executive Function / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / physiology


  • Alcohols
  • Neurotransmitter Agents