A low level of response (LR) to alcohol is an important endophenotype associated with an increased risk for alcoholism. However, little is known about how neural functioning may differ between individuals with low and high LRs to alcohol. This study examined whether LR group effects on neural activity varied as a function of acute alcohol consumption.
30 matched high- and low-LR pairs (N=60 healthy young adults) were recruited from the University of California, San Diego and administered a structured diagnostic interview and laboratory alcohol challenge followed by two fMRI sessions under placebo and alcohol conditions, in randomized order. Task performance and BOLD response contrast to high relative to low working memory load in an event-related visual working memory (VWM) task was examined across 120 fMRI sessions.
Both LR groups performed similarly on the VWM task across conditions. A significant LR group by condition interaction effect was observed in inferior frontal and cingulate regions, such that alcohol attenuated the LR group differences found under placebo (p<.05). The LR group by condition effect remained even after controlling for cerebral blood flow, age, and typical drinking quantity.
Alcohol had differential effects on brain activation for low and high LR individuals within frontal and cingulate regions. These findings represent an additional step in the search for physiological correlates of a low LR, and identify brain regions that may be associated with the low LR response.