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Monday, April 29, 2013

Alcohol use and cerebral white matter compromise in adolescence

Alcohol use is typically initiated during adolescence, a period known to be critical in neurodevelopment. The adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol. While the cognitive deficits associated with alcohol use during adolescence have been well-documented, the neural substrates underlying these effects remain inadequately understood. Cerebral white matter has been suggested as a primary site of alcohol-related damage and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) allows for the quantification of white matter integrity in vivo.

This review summarizes results from both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies employing DTI that indicate that white matter tracts, particularly those thought to be involved in executive functioning, continue to develop throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Numerous DTI studies reveal a positive correlation between white matter integrity and neurocognitive performance and, in adults, the detrimental effects of prolonged alcohol-dependence on white matter integrity. We provide a comprehensive review of the DTI studies exploring the relationship between alcohol use and white matter integrity in adolescents.

Results from most of these studies suggest that alcohol use is associated with reduced white matter integrity, particularly in the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), and some evidence suggests that this relationship may be influenced by sex.

We conclude by highlighting confounds and limitations of the available research and suggesting directions for future research.

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