Moderate doses of alcohol disrupt the functional organization of the human brain

Nora D. Volkow, Yeming Ma, Wei Zhu, Joanna S. Fowler, Juan Li, Manlong Rao, Klaus Mueller, Kith Pradhan, Christopher Wong, Gene Jack Wang

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52 Scopus citations


Acute alcohol administration decreases overall brain glucose metabolism, which serves as a marker of brain activity. The behavioral effects of alcohol, however, are likely to reflect not only changes in regional brain activity but also the patterns of brain functional organization. Here we assessed the effects of a moderate dose of alcohol on the patterns of brain activity and cerebral differentiation. We measured brain glucose metabolism in 20 healthy controls with positron emission tomography and fluorodeoxyglucose during baseline and during alcohol intoxication (0.75 g/kg). We used the coefficient of variation (CV) to assess changes in brain metabolic homogeneity, which we used as a marker for cerebral differentiation. We found that alcohol decreased the CV in the brain and this effect was independent of the decrements in overall glucose metabolism. Our study revealed marked disruption in brain activity during alcohol intoxication including decreases in global and regional brain differentiation, a loss of right versus left brain metabolic laterality and a shift in the predominance of activity from cortical to limbic brain regions. The widespread nature of the changes induced by a moderate dose of alcohol is likely to contribute to the marked disruption of alcohol on behavior, mood, cognition and motor activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-213
Number of pages9
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Issue number3
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Addiction
  • Coefficient of variation
  • Heterogeneity
  • Imaging
  • PET


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