Mammillary body and cerebellar shrinkage in chronic alcoholics with and without amnesia

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1996 Nov;20(8):1489-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.1996.tb01153.x.


Mammillary body and cerebellar atrophy have been described as postmorten neuropathologic markers of Korsakoff's syndrome. This study examined whether shrinkage in the mammillary bodies and cerebellum is present consistently in amnesic chronic alcoholics during life and whether the degree of abnormality in these patients differs from that in nonamnesic alcoholic and healthy controls. The severity of shrinkage in the mammillary bodies, cerebellar hemispheres, and cerebellar vermis visualizable on MRI scans was rated on a three-point scale in 33 chronic nonamnesic alcoholics, 9 amnesic alcoholics, and 20 healthy controls. Although both alcoholic groups showed significant mammillary body and cerebellar shrinkage relative to controls, the two patient groups did not differ from each other. Furthermore, four of eight amnesic patients in our sample did not demonstrate clinically significant mammillary body atrophy. These results suggest that alcoholism is associated with mammillary body and cerebellar tissue volume loss but do not provide evidence that these markers distinguish accurately between amnesic and nonamnesic patients. In addition, they suggest that visualizable mammillary body atrophy is not necessary for the development of amnesia in alcoholic patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / pathology*
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Atrophy
  • Cerebellum / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mammillary Bodies / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values