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Loss in connectivity among regions of the brain reward system in alcohol dependence

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A recently developed measure of structural brain connectivity disruption, the loss in connectivity (LoCo), is adapted for studies in alcohol dependence. LoCo uses independent tractography information from young healthy controls to project the location of white matter (WM) microstructure abnormalities in alcohol-dependent versus nondependent individuals onto connected gray matter (GM) regions. LoCo scores are computed from WM abnormality masks derived at two levels: (1) groupwise differences of alcohol-dependent individuals (ALC) versus light-drinking (LD) controls and (2) differences of each ALC individual versus the LD control group. LoCo scores based on groupwise WM differences show that GM regions belonging to the extended brain reward system (BRS) network have significantly higher LoCo (i.e., disconnectivity) than those not in this network (t = 2.18, P = 0.016). LoCo scores based on individuals' WM differences are also higher in BRS versus non-BRS (t = 5.26, P = 3.92 × 10(-6) ) of ALC. These results suggest that WM alterations in alcohol dependence, although subtle and spatially heterogeneous across the population, are nonetheless preferentially localized to the BRS. LoCo is shown to provide a more sensitive estimate of GM involvement than conventional volumetric GM measures by better differentiating between brains of ALC and LD controls (rates of 89.3% vs. 69.6%). However, just as volumetric measures, LoCo is not significantly correlated with standard metrics of drinking severity. LoCo is a sensitive WM measure of regional cortical disconnectivity that uniquely characterizes anatomical network disruptions in alcohol dependence.

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