Understanding the neural basis of alcohol use disorders (AUD) requires integration of neurophysiology, behavior, and psychological concepts. Neuroscientific models of AUD posit an imbalance between top-down cortical control networks and subcortical networks of motivation and reward, leading to impaired insight and compulsive drug-seeking behavior (Koob and Volkow, 2010). White matter tracts, which form the connective structure enabling communication among neurons, are a critical element in this conceptualization. White matter damage is a hallmark injury of AUD, with substantial volume loss found in both postmortem and in vivo studies (Kril and Halliday, 1999;Monnig et al., under review-c;Oscar-Berman and Marinkovic, 2007;Sullivan, 2000). Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an application of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), quantifies integrity of white matter, yielding richer information than simple volumetric measures. Several DTI investigations have found abnormality in reward and self-regulation networks in individuals with AUD (Harris et al., 2008;Monnig et al., under review-a;Monnig et al., under review-b;Pfefferbaum et al., 2009;Yeh et al., 2009). These findings may be especially problematic because psychosocial interventions for AUD typically rely on self-reflection, effortful information processing, and reevaluation of reward Although previous investigations provide clear evidence of white matter abnormality in AUD, its causes and correlates remain obscure. The applicant's recent meta-analysis of white matter volume in AUD indicated that atrophy was greater in those who were seeking treatment and who had been abstinent for shorter periods of time, thus relating AUD severity and recent drinking behavior to white matter damage (Monnig et al., under review-c). The goal of the current project is to test and extend these findings in a representative sample of 261 heavy drinkers. These individuals range widely in their alcohol intake, health consequences of drinking, and extent to which they identify with psychological constructs of AUD (e.g., loss of control over drinking). Neuroimaging and behavioral data from this sample reside in an extant dataset to which I have access for this dissertation proposal through collaboration with the primary sponsor, Dr. Kent E. Hutchison. The proposed project will use structural equation modeling to identify key psychological, behavioral, and biological markers of white matter damage in heavy drinkers. Next, mediation, moderation, and moderated mediation of the relationship between chronic drinking and white matter abnormality will be tested with hierarchical linear modeling. Finally, associations between white matter abnormality and cognition will be evaluated to determine the functional consequences of white matter damage. Identifying markers of alcohol- related brain damage from clinical assessments enhances the translation of findings to real-world interventions. This project will add to understanding of how cognitive deficits arising from compromise of white matter networks may undermine the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral treatment for AUD.

Public Health Relevance

This study will contribute to neuroscientific understanding of AUD by systematically testing how alcohol consumption, psychological constructs of AUD severity, and biomarkers of alcohol-related health consequences impact white matter integrity. Its ultimate aim is to elucidate how alcohol-related damage occurs in white matter networks underlying reward and self-regulation and how this damage may affect functional outcomes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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Urbanas, Diana
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University of New Mexico
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Monnig, Mollie A; Yeo, Ronald A; Tonigan, J Scott et al. (2015) Associations of White Matter Microstructure with Clinical and Demographic Characteristics in Heavy Drinkers. PLoS One 10:e0142042
Monnig, Mollie A; Thayer, Rachel E; Caprihan, Arvind et al. (2014) White matter integrity is associated with alcohol cue reactivity in heavy drinkers. Brain Behav 4:158-70
Monnig, Mollie A; Tonigan, J Scott; Yeo, Ronald A et al. (2013) White matter volume in alcohol use disorders: a meta-analysis. Addict Biol 18:581-92
Yeo, Ronald A; Thoma, Robert J; Gasparovic, Charles et al. (2013) Neurometabolite concentration and clinical features of chronic alcohol use: a proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. Psychiatry Res 211:141-7