• Adolescence;
  • fMRI;
  • Spatial Working Memory;
  • Family History of Alcoholism;
  • Default Network;
  • Cingulate

Background:  A positive family history (FH) of alcohol use disorders (AUD) has been linked to increased risk for the development of AUD, and neurocognitive factors have been postulated as important underlying mechanisms of familial alcoholism transmission.

Methods:  We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a spatial working memory (SWM) and vigilance paradigm to investigate potential neurodevelopmental differences linked to familial density of AUD in 72 adolescents aged 12 to 14 years.

Results:  Youth with denser family histories of AUD showed less activation during a simple vigilance condition relative to SWM in cingulate and medial frontal gyri (β = 0.28, p = 0.03), and a trend for more relative activity during rest (β = −0.25, p = 0.07) in this cluster.

Conclusions:  Youth with greater familial densities of AUD may be less successful at modulating activity of the default network, potentially indicating a greater propensity for task-independent thought or reduced inhibition of task-irrelevant processing. Failure to moderate activation of the default network may have implications for cognitive efficiency and goal directed behavior in youth with dense FH. Further, aberrant activation in cingulate regions may be linked to genetic variation in GABA receptor units, suggesting a useful endophenotype for risk associated with alcohol dependence.