Background: Postmortem studies report degradation of brain white matter microstructure in chronic alcoholism, but until recently, in vivo neuroimaging could provide measurement only at a macrostructural level. The development of magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) for clinical use offers a method for depicting and quantifying the diffusion properties of white matter expressed as intravoxel and intervoxel coherence of tracts and fibers.
Methods: This study used DTI to examine the intravoxel coherence measured as fractional anisotropy (FA) and intervoxel coherence (C) of white matter tracts of the genu and splenium of the corpus callosum and of the centrum semiovale in 15 detoxified alcoholic men and 31 nonalcoholic control subjects. Exploratory correlational analyses examined the relationships between regional DTI measures and tests of attention and working memory in the alcoholic patients.
Results: The alcoholic group had lower regional FA than the control group. C was lower in the alcoholics than controls in the splenium only. Working memory correlated positively with splenium FA, whereas attention correlated positively with genu C.
Conclusions: These results provide in vivo evidence for disruption of white matter microstructure in alcoholism and suggest that interruption of white matter fiber coherence contributes to disturbance in attention and working memory in chronic alcoholism.