Cortical thickness and trait empathy in patients and people at high risk for alcohol use disorders
Alcoholism not only affects individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD) but also their biological relatives. This high-risk (HR) group has a higher probability to develop AUD. The aim of our study was to compare cortical thickness (CT) in AUD patients relative to participants with (HR) and without (non-HR) familial predisposition for AUD. We focused on empathy-related brain areas as sociocognitive impairment represents a known risk factor for AUD.
We examined 13 individuals with AUD, 14 HR individuals, and 20 non-HR participants using high-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance images (3 Tesla) to investigate differences in CT. CT was correlated with self-reported empathy in empathy-related areas.
AUD patients showed decreased CT in the left inferior and superior frontal gyri, the right precuneus and bilaterally in the middle frontal gyri/the insula relative to the HR group, and in the left insula, the right middle frontal gyrus and bilaterally in the superior frontal gyrus/the precuneus relative to the non-HR group (all ps < 0.036, all ƞp 2 between 0.161 and 0.375). Reduced CT in inferior, middle, and superior frontal gyri was related to cognitive (all ps < 0.036) and reduced CT in the inferior frontal gyrus to affective (p = 0.031) empathy.
We present preliminary evidence of CT reduction in empathy-associated brain regions in patients with AUD relative to healthy participants with and without familial predisposition for AUD. The results have to be interpreted with caution due to low sample sizes and potential confounding effects of medication, gender, and withdrawal.
Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-017-4741-3
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