Background: Neuroimaging studies reported cerebral perfusion abnormalities in individuals with alcohol use disorders. However, no longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of cerebral perfusion changes during abstinence from alcohol have been reported.
Methods: Arterial spin labeling MRI was used to evaluate cortical gray matter perfusion changes in short-term abstinent alcohol dependent individuals in treatment and to assess the impact of chronic cigarette smoking on perfusion changes during abstinence. Seventy-six patients were scanned at least once. Data from 19 non-smoking (17 males, 2 females) and 22 smoking (21 males, 1 female) patients scanned at 1 and 5 weeks of abstinence were used to assess perfusion changes over time. Twenty-eight age-equated healthy controls (25 males, 3 females) were scanned for cross-sectional comparison, 13 of them were scanned twice. Given the age range of the cohort (28 to 68 years), age was used as a covariate in the analyses. Mean perfusion was measured in voxels of at least 80% gray matter in the frontal and parietal lobes and related to neurocognitive and substance use measures.
Results: At 1 week of abstinence, frontal and parietal gray matter perfusion in smoking alcoholics was not significantly different from that in non-smoking alcoholics, but each group’s perfusion values were significantly lower than in controls. After 5 weeks of abstinence, perfusion of frontal and parietal gray matter in non-smoking alcoholics was significantly higher than that at baseline. However, in smoking alcoholics, perfusion was not significantly different between the time-points in either region. The total number of cigarettes smoked per day was negatively correlated with frontal gray matter perfusion measured at 5 weeks of abstinence. Lobar perfusion measures did not correlate significantly with drinking severity or cognitive domain measures at either time-point.
Conclusion: Although cerebral perfusion in alcohol dependent individuals shows improvement with abstinence from alcohol, cigarette smoking appears to hinder perfusion improvement.