The hippocampus is a brain structure vital to learning and memory. It also appears vulnerable to damage from chronic, heavy alcohol consumption. An examination of alcohol's effects on the hippocampus has found that heavy drinking can reduce total hippocampus volume, which likely reflects a loss of hippocampal tissue substance.
Results are published in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"The hippocampus actually refers to two structures, the right hippocampus and the left hippocampus that are located in the right and left temporal lobes of the brain," explained Thomas P. Beresford, Department of Veterans Affairs physician, and professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "Most scientists think that the hippocampus helps the brain manage learning, especially learning and remembering new things or things that happened recently. Before this study, researchers had noticed that the volume of the hippocampus seemed to be smaller in people who frequently drank large amounts of alcohol for long periods of time." Beresford is also the corresponding author for the study.
"The hippocampus is known to be injured by chronic stress and in Alzheimer's disease," added Gary Wand, professor of medicine and psychiatry, as well as director of the Endocrine Training Program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Although previous studies have shown a similar effect, this study was better controlled making the findings more believable."
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare hippocamp