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Effects of abstinence and chronic cigarette smoking on white matter microstructure in alcohol dependence: Diffusion tensor imaging at 4T



We previously reported widespread microstructural deficits of brain white matter in alcohol-dependent individuals (ALC) compared to light drinkers in a small 1.5T diffusion tensor imaging study employing tract-based spatial statistics. Using a larger dataset acquired at 4T, the present study is an extension that investigated the effects of alcohol consumption, abstinence from alcohol, and comorbid cigarette smoking on white matter microstructure.


Tract-based spatial statistics were performed on 20 1-week-abstinent ALC, 52 1-month-abstinent ALC, and 30 controls. Regional measures of fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) in the significant clusters were compared by Analysis of Covariance. The metrics were correlated with substance use history and behavioral measures.


1-week-abstinent ALC showed lower FA than controls in the corpus callosum, right cingulum, external capsule, and hippocampus. At 1 month of abstinence, only the FA in the body of the corpus callosum of ALC remained significantly different from controls. Some regional FA deficits correlated with more severe measures of drinking and smoking histories but only weakly with mood and impulsivity measures.


White matter microstructure is abnormal during early abstinence in alcohol dependent treatment seekers and recovers into the normal range within about four weeks. The compromised white matter was related to substance use severity, mood, and impulsivity. Our findings suggest that ALC may benefit from interventions that facilitate normalization of DTI metrics to maintain abstinence, via smoking cessation, cognitive-based therapy, and perhaps pharmacology to support remyelination.

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