An increasing number of studies use functional MRI (fMRI) and blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal to investigate the neurofunctional basis of acute alcohol effects on the brain. However, the BOLD signal reflects neural activity only indirectly as it depends on regional hemodynamic changes and is therefore sensitive to vasoactive substances, such as alcohol. We used MRI-based pulsed arterial spin labeling (ASL) method to quantify effects of acute intoxication on resting cerebral perfusion. Gender effects have not been previously examined and yet they are of particular interest given the differences in hormonal dynamics, alcohol metabolism, and hemodynamic regulation. Nineteen young, healthy individuals (nine women) with no personal or familial alcohol- or drug-related problems served as their own controls by participating in both alcohol (0.6g/kg ethanol for men, 0.55g/kg for women) and placebo scanning sessions in a counterbalanced manner. Regionally specific effects of the moderate alcohol dose on gray matter perfusion were examined with voxel-wise and region-of-interest analyses suggesting an interaction between gender and alcohol beverage. Acute intoxication increased perfusion in bilateral frontal regions in men but not in women. Under placebo, stronger cortical perfusion was observed in women compared with men primarily in the left hemisphere in frontal, parietal, and temporal areas. These results emphasize gender differences and regional specificity of alcohol's effects of cerebral perfusion possibly because of interactive influences on hormonal, metabolic, and hemodynamic autoregulatory systems. Alcohol-induced perfusion increase correlated positively with impulsivity/antisocial tendencies, consistent with dopaminergic mediation of reward, and its effects on cortical perfusion. Additional ASL studies are needed to investigate dose- and time-dependent effects of alcohol intoxication and gender on the hemodynamic factors that conjointly influence BOLD signal to disambiguate the vascular/metabolic mechanisms from the neurally based changes.
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