Cerebellar Hypermetabolism in Alcohol Use Disorder: Compensatory Mechanism or Maladaptive Plasticity?

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Oct;43(10):2212-2221. doi: 10.1111/acer.14158. Epub 2019 Sep 5.


Background: Despite severe structural brain abnormalities within the frontocerebellar circuit (FCC), cerebellar metabolism studied with 18 F-2-fluoro-deoxy-glucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) is relatively preserved in patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD). The compensatory role of the cerebellum has been explored mainly through fMRI examination of AUD patients with the preserved level of performance. The present study aims at examining cerebellar metabolism and its relationship with regional brain metabolism and neuropsychological functioning in AUD patients.

Methods: Thirty-two recently detoxified AUD patients and 23 controls underwent an FDG-PET examination at rest. Participants also performed a neuropsychological battery assessing executive functions, verbal memory, and ataxia.

Results: Compared to controls, AUD patients had higher glucose uptake in the cerebellar lobule VIII, in association with hypometabolism, notably in several nodes of the FCC. Cerebellar hypermetabolism correlated negatively with regional hypometabolism in the premotor and frontal cortices. This pattern of regional hypermetabolism and hypometabolism related to ataxia and working memory deficits.

Conclusions: These specific brain-behavior relationships do not fulfill the criteria for brain compensatory processes. Cerebellar hypermetabolism may rather reflect the involvement of different pathological mechanisms, leading to a maladaptive plasticity phenomenon within the FCC in AUD patients who are early in abstinence. Further studies are required to examine the contributions of structural and functional connectivity alterations in the cerebellar hypermetabolism and the changes in these pathological mechanisms with abstinence or relapse.

Keywords: Alcohol Use Disorder; Cerebellum; FrontoCerebellar Circuit; Hypermetabolism; Maladaptive Plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / diagnostic imaging
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Ataxia / chemically induced
  • Ataxia / psychology
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / metabolism*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced
  • Memory Disorders / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Positron-Emission Tomography


  • Glucose