Prefrontal Cortex, Thalamus, and Cerebellar Volumes in Adolescents and Young Adults with Adolescent-Onset Alcohol Use Disorders and Comorbid Mental Disorders

Authors

  • Michael D. De Bellis,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Anandhi Narasimhan,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Dawn L. Thatcher,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Matcheri S. Keshavan,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Paul Soloff,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Duncan B. Clark

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Search for more papers by this author

  • Presented in part at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, May 2002.

  • Supported in part by NIMH grants K08MHO1324 and RO1AA12479 (MDB), RO1MH01180 and RO1MH43687 (MSK), and K02AA00291 and R01DA14635 (DBC) and P50AA08746 (DBC, PS).

Reprint requests: Dr. Michael D. De Bellis, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Box 3613, Durham, NC, 27710; Fax: 919-419-0165; E-mail: debel002@mc.duke.edu.

Abstract

Background:

In adults, prefrontal, thalamic, and cerebellar brain injury is associated with excessive ethanol intake. As these brain structures are actively maturing during adolescence, we hypothesized that subjects with adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders, compared with control subjects, would have smaller brain volumes in these areas. Thus, we compared prefrontal-thalamic-cerebellar measures of adolescents and young adults with adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders (AUD, defined as DSM-IV alcohol dependence or abuse) with those of sociodemographically similar control subjects.

Methods:

Magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure prefrontal cortex, thalamic, and cerebellar volumes in 14 subjects (eight males, six females) with an AUD (mean age, 17.0 ± 2.1 years) and 28 control subjects (16 males, 12 females; 16.9 ± 2.3 years). All AUD subjects were recruited from substance abuse treatment programs and had comorbid mental disorders.

Results:

Subjects with alcohol use disorders had smaller prefrontal cortex and prefrontal cortex white matter volumes compared with control subjects. Right, left, and total thalamic, pons/brainstem, right and left cerebellar hemispheric, total cerebellar, and cerebellar vermis volumes did not differ between groups. There was a significant sex-by-group effect, indicating that males with an adolescent-onset AUD compared with control males had smaller cerebellar volumes, whereas the two female groups did not differ in cerebellar volumes. Prefrontal cortex volume variables significantly correlated with measures of alcohol consumption.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that a smaller prefrontal cortex is associated with early-onset drinking in individuals with comorbid mental disorders. Further studies are warranted to examine if a smaller prefrontal cortex represents a vulnerability to, or a consequence of, early-onset drinking.

Ancillary