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Keywords:

  • fMRI Eyes Task;
  • Theory of Mind (ToM);
  • Right Middle Temporal Gyrus (RMTG);
  • High Risk Offspring;
  • Alcohol Dependence

Background:  Increased susceptibility for developing alcohol dependence (AD) may be related to structural and functional differences in brain circuits that influence social cognition and more specifically, theory of mind (ToM). Alcohol dependent individuals have a greater likelihood of having deficits in social skills and greater social alienation. These characteristics may be related to inherited differences in the neuroanatomical network that comprises the social brain.

Methods:  Adolescent/young adult participants from multiplex AD families and controls (n = 16) were matched for gender, age, IQ, education, and handedness and administered the Eyes Task of Baron-Cohen during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Results:  High-risk (HR) subjects showed significantly diminished blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response in comparison with low-risk control young adults in the right middle temporal gyrus (RMTG) and the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG), areas that have previously been implicated in ToM tasks.

Conclusions:  Offspring from multiplex families for AD may manifest one aspect of their genetic susceptibility by having a diminished BOLD response in brain regions associated with performance of ToM tasks. These results suggest that those at risk for developing AD may have reduced ability to empathize with others’ state of mind, possibly resulting in diminished social skill.