Brain Gray and White Matter Volume Loss Accelerates with Aging in Chronic Alcoholics: A Quantitative MRI Study

Authors

  • Adolf Pfefferbaum,

    Corresponding author
    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Kelvin O. Lim,

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Robert B. Zipursky,

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Daniel H. Mathalon,

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Margaret J. Rosenbloom,

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Barton Lane,

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Chung Nim Ha,

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • Edith V. Sullivan

    1. Psychiatry and Radiology Services, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, California; and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.
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  • This study was supported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA 05965), National Institute of Mental Health (MH 30854), the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders, Norris Mental Health Center, and the Meyer Foundation.

Reprint requests: Dr. Adolph Pfefferbaum, Psychiatry Service 116A, VA Medical Center, 3801 Miranda Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304.

Abstract

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to study in vivo the brains of 49 patients with chronic alcoholism, 3 to 4 weeks postwithdrawal, and 43 normal healthy controls, all right-handed male veterans between the ages of 23 and 70 years. MRI scans were analyzed using semi-automated procedure, which allowed the subcortical regions to be segmented into cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and brain tissue and the cortical regions to be segmented into CSF, gray matter, and white matter. An age regression model was used to examine the effects of alcohol on brain structure, over and above that expected from the normal aging process. The alcoholics exhibited decreased tissue and increased CSF after correcting for aging. In the cortex, there was significant loss of both gray matter and white matter volume. In this sample of alcoholics, no particular cortical region was preferentially affected or spared. Furthermore, brain tissue volume loss increased with advanced age in the alcoholics. In this group of alcoholics there was no relationship between length of illness and age, i.e., the younger alcoholics had as heavy alcohol use histories as did the older alcoholics. Thus, the increased brain tissue loss with advanced age is interpreted as evidence for age-related increase in brain vulnerability to chronic alcohol abuse.

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