Background: A low level of response (i.e., a low LR) to alcohol is a genetically influenced phenotype that predicts later alcoholism. While the low LR reflects, at least in part, a low brain response to alcohol, the physiological underpinnings of the low LR have only recently been addressed.
Methods: Forty-nine drinking but not yet alcoholic matched pairs of 18- to 25-year-old subjects (N = 98; 53% women) with low and high LRs as established in separate alcohol challenges were evaluated in 2 event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sessions (placebo and approximately 0.7 ml/kg of alcohol) while performing a validated stop signal task. The high and low LR groups had identical blood alcohol levels during the alcohol session.
Results: Significant high versus low LR group and LR group × condition effects were observed in blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) signal during error and inhibitory processing, despite similar LR group performance on the task. In most clusters with significant (corrected p < 0.05, clusters > 1,344 μl) LR group × alcohol/placebo condition interactions, the low LR group demonstrated relatively less, whereas the high LR group demonstrated more, error and inhibition-related activation after alcohol compared with placebo.
Conclusions: This is one of the first fMRI studies to demonstrate significant differences between healthy groups with different risks of a future life-threatening disorder. The results may suggest a brain mechanism that contributes to how a low LR might enhance the risk of future heavy drinking and alcohol dependence.