, Volume 229, Issue 1, pp 141–154

Alcohol attenuates amygdala–frontal connectivity during processing social signals in heavy social drinkers

A preliminary pharmaco-fMRI study
  • Stephanie M. Gorka
  • Daniel A. Fitzgerald
  • Andrea C. King
  • K. Luan Phan
Original Investigation

DOI: 10.1007/s00213-013-3090-0

Cite this article as:
Gorka, S.M., Fitzgerald, D.A., King, A.C. et al. Psychopharmacology (2013) 229: 141. doi:10.1007/s00213-013-3090-0



Convergent evidence shows that alcohol exerts its effects on social behavior via modulation of amygdala reactivity to affective stimuli. Given that affective processing involves dynamic interactions between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), alcohol’s effects are likely to extend beyond regional changes in brain activity to changes that manifest on a broader functional circuit level.


The current study examines alcohol’s effects on functional connectivity (i.e., "coupling") between the amygdala and the PFC during the processing of socio-emotional stimuli using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).


In a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects cross-over design, 12 heavy, social drinkers performed an fMRI task designed to probe amygdala response to socio-emotional stimuli (angry, fearful, and happy faces) following acute ingestion of alcohol or placebo. Functional connectivity between the amygdala and PFC was examined and compared between alcohol and placebo sessions using a conventional generalized psychophysiological interaction (gPPI) analysis.


Relative to placebo, alcohol reduced functional coupling between the amygdala and the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) during processing of both angry and fearful faces. Alcohol also reduced functional coupling between the amygdala and left OFC during processing of happy faces.


These preliminary findings suggest that alcohol’s effects on social behavior may be mediated by alternations in functional connectivity between the amygdala and OFC during processing of emotional faces.


AlcoholAmygdalaFunctional connectivitySocial threat

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie M. Gorka
    • 1
  • Daniel A. Fitzgerald
    • 2
  • Andrea C. King
    • 3
  • K. Luan Phan
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois–ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Illinois–ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral NeurosciencesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Jesse Brown VA Medical CenterMental Health Service LineChicagoUSA