Alcohol may compound its damaging effects through frontocerebellar circuitry

  • Chronic alcohol use can lead to a wide range of brain structural and neuropsychological dysfunction.
  • Deficits in executive functioning have been linked to lesions of the prefrontal cortex.
  • Deficits in balance have been linked to lesions of the cerebellum.
  • New research indicates that frontocerebellar circuitry may allow a synergy of lesions to cause damage to both brain regions.

Patients with chronic alcoholism develop a wide range of brain structural and neuropsychological abnormalities. Deficits in executive functioning - such as problem solving, putting things in order, working memory, and doing multiple tasks at once - have been linked to lesions of the prefrontal cortex. Deficits in balance have been linked to lesions of the cerebellum. A study in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that the circuitry connecting these two spatially disparate brain regions, specifically through the pons and thalamus, may allow lesions to compound their effects on the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum.

"Neuropathological, neuroimaging, and neuropsychological studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex and regions of the cerebellum are especially vulnerable to the untoward effects of chronic alcoholism," said Edith Sullivan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and the sole author of the study. "Other neuroscience research provides evidence that, despite their geographical distance in the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is at the frontal lobe, and the cerebellum, which is basically the hindbrain, are connected by far-reaching white matter tracts and a structural neural network. It seemed very likely that damage to one node or individual brain structure of this frontocerebellar system could affect other nodes within that circuitry, both structurally and functionally."

Sullivan chose to examin


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