Adolescent drinking and brain morphometry: A co-twin control analysis

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Developmental changes in structure and functioning are thought to make the adolescent brain particularly sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol. Although alcohol use disorders are relatively rare in adolescence, the initiation of alcohol use, including problematic use, becomes increasingly prevalent during this period. The present study examined associations between normative drinking (alcohol initiation, binge drinking, intoxication) and brain morphometry in a sample of 96 adolescent monozygotic twins. A priori regions of interest included 11 subcortical and 20 cortical structures implicated in the existing empirical literature as associated with normative alcohol use in adolescence. In addition, co-twin control analyses were used to disentangle risk for alcohol use from consequences of alcohol exposure on the developing brain. Results indicated significant associations reflecting preexisting vulnerability toward problematic alcohol use, including reduced volume of the amygdala, increased volume of the cerebellum, and reduced cortical volume and thickness in several frontal and temporal regions, including the superior and middle frontal gyri, pars triangularis, and middle and inferior temporal gyri. Results also indicated some associations consistent with a neurotoxic effect of alcohol exposure, including reduced volume of the ventral diencephalon and the middle temporal gyrus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-138
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research reported in this article was supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21AA017314 , the National Institute of Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers R37DA05147 and R01DA036216 , the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number T32MH15755 , and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers P30NS057091 and P30NS076408 at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research. The authors are grateful to Scott Burwell and Uma Vaidyanathan for their assistance with screening MRI data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors


  • Adolescence
  • Alcohol use
  • Brain morphometry
  • Co-twin control
  • Neuroimaging


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