Increased cortical activity in binge drinkers during working memory task: a preliminary assessment through a functional magnetic resonance imaging study

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 25;8(4):e62260. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062260. Print 2013.


Background: Cerebral dysfunction is a common feature of both chronic alcohol abusers and binge drinkers. Here, we aimed to study whether, at equated behavioral performance levels, binge drinkers exhibited increased neural activity while performing simple cognitive tasks.

Methods: Thirty-two participants (16 binge drinkers and 16 matched controls) were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing an n-back working memory task. In the control zero-back (N0) condition, subjects were required to press a button with the right hand when the number "2" was displayed. In the two-back (N2) condition, subjects had to press a button when the displayed number was identical to the number shown two trials before.

Results: fMRI analyses revealed higher bilateral activity in the pre-supplementary motor area in binge drinkers than matched controls, even though behavioral performances were similar. Moreover, binge drinkers showed specific positive correlations between the number of alcohol doses consumed per occasion and higher activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, as well as between the number of drinking occasions per week and higher activity in cerebellum, thalamus and insula while performing the N2 memory task.

Conclusions: Binge alcohol consumption leads to possible compensatory cerebral changes in binge drinkers that facilitate normal behavioral performance. These changes in cerebral responses may be considered as vulnerability factors for developing adult substance use disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / drug effects
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Binge Drinking / economics
  • Binge Drinking / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Ethanol / economics
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Marketing
  • Memory, Short-Term* / drug effects
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Neurotoxins
  • Ethanol

Grant support

Salvatore Campanella and Xavier Noël are Research Associate at the Belgian Fund of Scientific Research (F.R.S.-F.N.R.S.). Géraldine Petit is Research Fellow at F.R.S.-F.N.R.S. Xavier De Tiège is “Clinicien Chercheur Spécialiste” at F.R.S.-F.N.R.S. This study was financially supported by F.R.S.-F.N.R.S and by ERAB (The European Foundation for Alcohol Research – ref. EA 10 30: “Binge drinking: cognitive and brain impairment and their association with immune response”). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.