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Binge drinking differentially affects adolescent male and female brain morphometry

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Abstract

Rationale

Adolescent binge drinking is concerning, as important neurodevelopments occur during this stage. Previous research suggests that binge drinking may disrupt typical brain development, and females may be particularly vulnerable.

Objectives

We used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine cortical thickness in adolescent females and males with and without histories of binge drinking.

Methods

Participants (N = 59) were 16–19-year-old adolescents recruited from local schools. Recent binge drinkers (n = 29, 48% female) were matched to non-drinkers (n = 30, 50% female) on age, gender, pubertal development, and familial alcoholism. Participants completed a neuropsychological battery and MRI session. Cortical surfaces were reconstructed with FreeSurfer.

Results

Binge × gender interactions (p < .05) were seen for cortical thickness in four left frontal regions: frontal pole, pars orbitalis, medial orbital frontal, and rostral anterior cingulate. For all interactions, female bingers had thicker cortices than female controls, while male bingers had thinner cortices than male controls. Thicker left frontal cortices corresponded with poorer visuospatial, inhibition, and attention performances for female bingers (r = −0.69 to 0.50, p < 0.05) and worse attention for male bingers (r = −0.69, p = 0.005).

Conclusions

Adolescent females with recent binge drinking showed ~8% thicker cortices in left frontal regions than demographically similar female non-drinkers, which was linked to worse visuospatial, inhibition, and attention performances. In contrast, adolescent binge-drinking males showed ~7% thinner cortices in these areas than non-drinking males. These cross-sectional data suggest either different gray matter risk factors for males as for females toward developing heavy drinking, or differential adverse sequelae.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01 AA13419, PI: Tapert; F31 AA018940, PI: Squeglia, F32 AA018597; R21 AA019748, PI: Pulido) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA021182, P20 DA024194, P20 DA027834).

The authors thank Veronique Boucquey, Norma Castro, Sonja Eberson, Diane Goldenberg, Joanna Jacobus, Anthony Scarlett, Rachel Thayer, Dr. Sunita Bava, Dr. Sandra Brown, Dr. Karen Hanson, Dr. Omar Mahmood, Dr. M.J. Meloy, and the participating families and schools.

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The authors report no conflicts of interest or financial disclosures.

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Correspondence to Susan F. Tapert.

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Squeglia, L.M., Sorg, S.F., Schweinsburg, A.D. et al. Binge drinking differentially affects adolescent male and female brain morphometry. Psychopharmacology 220, 529–539 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-011-2500-4

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