Background: Alcoholism-related deficits in cognition and emotion point toward frontal and limbic dysfunction, particularly in the right hemisphere. Prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices are involved in cognitive and emotional functions and play critical roles in the oversight of the limbic reward system. In the present study, we examined the integrity of white matter tracts that are critical to frontal and limbic connectivity.
Methods: Diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DT-MRI) was used to assess functional anisotropy (FA), a measure of white matter integrity, in 15 abstinent long-term chronic alcoholic and 15 demographically equivalent control men. Voxel-based and region-based analyses of group FA differences were applied to these scans.
Results: Alcoholic subjects had diminished frontal lobe FA in the right superior longitudinal fascicles II and III, orbitofrontal cortex white matter, and cingulum bundle, but not in corresponding left hemisphere regions. These right frontal and cingulum white matter regional FA measures provided 97% correct group discrimination. Working Memory scores positively correlated with superior longitudinal fascicle III FA measures in control subjects only.
Conclusions: The findings demonstrate white matter microstructure deficits in abstinent alcoholic men in several right hemisphere tracts connecting prefrontal and limbic systems. These white matter deficits may contribute to underlying dysfunction in memory, emotion, and reward response in alcoholism.