Sex-specific associations between subcortical morphometry in childhood and adult alcohol consumption: A 17-year follow-up study

Neuroimage Clin. 2021:31:102771. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102771. Epub 2021 Jul 26.


Men and women tend to differ in the age of first alcohol consumption, transition into disordered drinking, and the prevalence of alcohol use disorder. Here, we use a unique longitudinal dataset to test for potentially predispositonal sex-biases in brain organization prior to initial alcohol exposure. Our study combines measures of subcortical morphometry gathered in alcohol naive individuals during childhood (mean age: 9.43 years, SD = 2.06) with self-report measures of alcohol use in the same individuals an average of 17 years later (N = 81, 46 males, 35 females). We observe that pediatric amygdala and hippocampus volume both show sex-biased relationships with adult drinking. Specifically, females show a stronger association between subcortical volumetric reductions in childhood and peak drinking in adulthood as compared to males. Detailed analysis of subcortical shape localizes these effects to the rostro-medial hippocampus and basolateral amygdala subnuclei. In contrast, we did not observe sex-specific associations between striatal anatomy and peak alcohol consumption. These results are consistent with a model in which organization of the amygdala and hippocampus in childhood is more relevant for subsequent patterns of peak alcohol use in females as compared to males. Differential neuroanatomical precursors of alcohol use in males and females could provide a potential developmental basis for well recognized sex-differences in alcohol use behaviors.. Thus, our findings not only indicate that brain correlates of human alcohol consumption are manifest long before alcohol initiation, but that some of these correlates are not equivalent between males and females.

Trial registration: NCT00001246.

Keywords: Alcohol; Amygdala; Hippocampus; Longitudinal predictors; Sex differences; Subcortical anatomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism*
  • Amygdala* / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Male

Associated data