Despite some evidence of the underlying molecular mechanisms the neuronal basis of ethanol-induced effects on the neurovascular coupling that forms the BOLD (blood oxygenation level dependent) signal is poorly understood. In a recent fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study monitoring ethanol-induced changes of the BOLD signal a reduction of the amplitude and a prolongation of the BOLD signal were observed. However, the BOLD signal is assumed to consist of a complex superposition of different underlying signals. To gain insight how ethanol influences stimulus efficacy, oxygen extraction, transit time and vessel-related parameters the fMRI time series from the sensori-motor and the visual cortex were analyzed using the balloon model. The results show a region-dependent decrease of the stimulus efficacy to trigger a post-stimulus neurovascular response as well as a prolongation of the transit time through the venous compartment. Oxygen extraction, feedback mechanisms and other vessel-related parameters were not affected. The results may be interpreted as follows: the overall mechanisms of the neurovascular coupling are still acting well at the moderate ethanol level of about 0.8‰ (in particular the vessel-related parts), but the potency to evoke a neurovascular response is already compromised most obviously in the supplementary motor area responsible for complex synchronizing and planning processes.
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