(Boston) - Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System have demonstrated that the effects on white matter brain volume from long-term alcohol abuse are different for men and women. The study, which is published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, also suggests that with abstinence, women recover their white matter brain volume more quickly than men.
The study was led by Susan Mosher Ruiz, PhD, postdoctoral research scientist in the Laboratory for Neuropsychology at BUSM and research scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Marlene Oscar Berman, PhD, professor of psychiatry, neurology and anatomy and neurobiology at BUSM and research career scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
In previous research, alcoholism has been associated with white matter pathology. White matter forms the connections between neurons, allowing communication between different areas of the brain. While previous neuroimaging studies have shown an association between alcoholism and white matter reduction, this study furthered the understanding of this effect by examining gender differences and utilizing a novel region-of-interest approach.
The research team employed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the effects of drinking history and gender on white matter volume. They examined brain images from 42 abstinent alcoholic men and women who drank heavily for more than five years and 42 nonalcoholic control men and women. Looking at the correlation between years of alcohol abuse and white matter volume, the researchers found that a greater number of years of alcohol abuse was associated with smaller white matter volumes in the abstinent alcoholic men and women. In the men, the decrease was observed in the corpus callosum while in women, this effect was observed in cortical white matter regions.
"We believe that many of the cognitive and emotional deficits observed in people with chronic alcoholism, including memory problems and flat affect, are related to disconnections that result from a loss of white matter," said Mosher Ruiz.