Thalamic abnormalities are a cardinal feature of alcohol-related brain dysfunction

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Jul;54:38-45. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.07.023. Epub 2014 Aug 6.


Two brain networks are particularly affected by the harmful effect of chronic and excessive alcohol consumption: the circuit of Papez and the frontocerebellar circuit, in both of which the thalamus plays a key role. Shrinkage of the thalamus is more severe in alcoholics with Korsakoff's syndrome (KS) than in those without neurological complication (AL). In accordance with the gradient effect of thalamic abnormalities between AL and KS, the pattern of brain dysfunction in the Papez's circuit results in anterograde amnesia in KS and only mild-to-moderate episodic memory disorders in AL. On the opposite, dysfunction of the frontocerebellar circuit results in a similar pattern of working memory and executive deficits in the AL and KS. Several hypotheses, mutually compatible, can be drawn to explain that the severe thalamic shrinkage observed in KS has different consequences in the neuropsychological profile associated with the two brain networks.

Keywords: Alcoholism; Fronto-cerebellar circuit; Korsakoff's syndrome; Papez's circuit; Thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / pathology*
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Mammillary Bodies / pathology
  • Mammillary Bodies / physiopathology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Thalamus / pathology*
  • Thalamus / physiopathology*