Recent in vivo research using magnetic resonance spectroscopy demonstrated that chronic cigarette smoking exacerbates regional chronic alcohol-induced brain injury. Other studies associated cigarette smoking with gray matter volume reductions in healthy adults, with greater brain atrophy in aging, and with poorer neurocognition. Although cigarette smoking is common among alcohol-dependent individuals, previous research did not account for the potential effects of chronic smoking on regional brain volumes in alcoholism.
High-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance images from one-week-abstinent, alcohol-dependent individuals and light drinkers were automatically segmented into gray matter, white matter, and cerebral spinal fluid of lobes and subcortical structures. A brief neuropsychological test battery was used to assess cognition in alcohol-dependent individuals. The alcoholic and nondrinking groups were retrospectively divided into chronic smokers and nonsmokers, and the volumetric data were analyzed as a function of alcohol and smoking status.
Chronic alcohol dependence was associated with smaller volumes of frontal and parietal white matter, parietal and temporal gray matter, and thalami, accompanied by widespread sulcal but not ventricular enlargements. Chronic cigarette smoking was associated with less parietal and temporal gray matter and with more temporal white matter. Among alcoholics, better visuospatial learning and memory and greater visuomotor scanning speed were correlated with larger lobar white matter volumes in the nonsmoking alcohol-dependent group only.
These data provide preliminary evidence that comorbid chronic cigarette smoking accounts for some of the variance associated with cortical gray matter loss and appears to alter relationships between brain structure and cognitive functions in alcohol-dependent individuals.