• Topography;
  • Alcoholics;
  • P3;
  • N1;
  • Modality;
  • CSD

Background: There is controversy in the literature regarding the relationship between event-related-potential (ERP) abnormalities in abstinent alcoholics and stimulus-processing modality (i.e., visual versus auditory). The first purpose of this study was to address questions about whether ERP abnormalities observed in alcoholics are modality specific. The second purpose was to employ current source density (CSD) analyses to investigate topographic differences between alcoholics and controls within each modality.

Methods: Data were collected from 30 sober male alcoholics and 39 normal males in a typical auditory oddball task and in a visual oddball paradigm with novel stimuli, with an extensive set of 61 scalp electrodes. Visual and quantitative assessment of CSD maps as well as analyses of variances on both raw and normalized ERP data were performed.

Results: Positive findings were limited to the N1 and P3 components. The visual N1 amplitude was significantly smaller in alcoholics than in controls at the parietal region; no significant group differences in N1 were found in the auditory modality. Alcoholics had widespread reductions in P3 amplitudes in both modalities compared with controls, although in the frontal region this effect was partially due to the influence of age. These P3 reductions in alcoholics were statistically more pronounced in the posterior compared with the anterior regions regardless of modality. Topographically, sources in CSD maps were weaker in alcoholics than in controls; in the frontal and central regions, the weakness was more pronounced in the auditory modality but, in parietal and occipital regions, it was more pronounced in the visual modality.

Conclusions: The results suggest that, in abstinent alcoholics, abnormalities in auditory ERPs may be localized to more anterior sources, while abnormalities in visual ERPs may be localized to more posterior sources. ERP topographic features are more sensitive than amplitude measurements in assessing alcoholic-related modality effects.