Acute Alcohol Effects on Contextual Memory BOLD Response: Differences Based on Fragmentary Blackout History


Reprint requests: Reagan R. Wetherill, PhD, University of California, San Diego, Department of Psychiatry, 8950 Villa La Jolla Drive, Suite C213, San Diego, CA 92037; Tel.: 858-822-3995; Fax: 858-822-3933; E-mail:



Contextual memory, or memory for source details, is an important aspect of episodic memory and has been implicated in alcohol-induced fragmentary blackouts (FBs). Little is known, however, about how neural functioning during contextual memory processes may differ between individuals with and without a history of FB. This study examined whether neural activation during a contextual memory task differed by history of FB and acute alcohol consumption.


Twenty-four matched individuals with (FB+; = 12) and without (FB−; = 12) a history of FBs were recruited from a longitudinal study of alcohol use and behavioral risks and completed a laboratory beverage challenge followed by 2 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sessions under no alcohol and alcohol (breath alcohol concentration = 0.08%) conditions. Task performance and brain hemodynamic activity during a block design contextual memory task were examined across 48 fMRI sessions.


Groups demonstrated no differences in performance on the contextual memory task, yet exhibited different brain response patterns after alcohol intoxication. A significant FB group by beverage interaction emerged in bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex with FB− individuals showing greater blood oxygenation level-dependent response after alcohol exposure (< 0.05).


Alcohol had differential effects on neural activity for FB+ and FB− individuals during recollection of contextual information, perhaps suggesting a neurobiological mechanism associated with alcohol-induced FB.