The acute impact of ethanol on cognitive performance in rhesus macaques

Cereb Cortex. 2011 Aug;21(8):1783-91. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhq244. Epub 2010 Dec 9.


Decreased cognitive control over prepotent responses has been hypothesized to contribute to ethanol-induced behavioral disinhibition. However, the effects of ethanol on specific cognitive domains associated with decision making have not been extensively studied. We examined the impact of acute ethanol administration on cognitive performance of nonhuman primates. Studies were conducted using 0.2, 0.5, and 1 g/kg intravenous ethanol in rhesus macaques performing touch screen-based tasks examining stimulus discrimination, stimulus reversal, and stimulus response performance. The impact on attentional processing was also evaluated. Ethanol reduced the accuracy of reversal performance marginally at 0.2 g/kg and significantly at 0.5 g/kg. This effect was selective given an absence of impairment on the stimulus discrimination and stimulus response tasks at these doses. Performance on stimulus discrimination was impaired at 1.0 g/kg, which prevented determination of reversal performance. Analysis of post-error response times demonstrated that error processing was impaired at both 0.2 and 0.5 g/kg. Ethanol also increased the number of omissions and delayed responses on an attentional task, suggesting more frequent attentional lapses. These data demonstrate that cognitive function mediated by specific prefrontal cortical brain regions is particularly sensitive to ethanol and suggest specific cognitive mechanisms that may underlie harmful decisions made at low doses of ethanol.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / toxicity
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Decision Making / drug effects
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol