Emotional processing and brain activity in youth at high risk for alcoholism

Anita Cservenka, Damien A. Fair, Bonnie J. Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background: Even in the absence of heavy alcohol use, youth with familial alcoholism (family history positive [FHP]) exhibit atypical brain functioning and behavior. Although emotional and cognitive systems are affected in alcohol use disorders (AUDs), little attention has focused on whether brain and behavior phenotypes related to the interplay between affective and executive functioning may be a premorbid risk factor for the development of AUDs in FHP youth. Methods: Twenty-four FHP and 22 family history negative (FHN) 12- to 16-year-old adolescents completed study procedures. After exclusion of participants with clinically significant depressive symptoms and those who did not meet performance criteria during an Emotional Go-NoGo task, 19 FHP and 17 FHN youth were included in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analyses. Resting state functional connectivity MRI, using amygdalar seed regions, was analyzed in 16 FHP and 18 FHN youth, after exclusion of participants with excessive head movement. Results: fMRI showed that brain activity in FHP youth, compared with FHN peers, was reduced during emotional processing in the superior temporal cortex, as well as during cognitive control within emotional contexts in frontal and striatal regions. Group differences in resting state amygdalar connectivity were seen bilaterally between FHP and FHN youth. In FHP youth, reduced resting state synchrony between the left amygdala and left superior frontal gyrus was related to poorer response inhibition, as measured during the fMRI task. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine emotion-cognition interactions and resting state functional connectivity in FHP youth. Findings from this research provide insight into neural and behavioral phenotypes associated with emotional processing in familial alcoholism, which may relate to increased risk of developing AUDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1912-1923
Number of pages12
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcoholism
  • Emotion
  • Family history
  • Resting state
  • fMRI


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