Alcohol-induced changes in mesostriatal resting-state functional connectivity are linked to sensation seeking in young adults

Angelica Morales, Sydney Gilbert, Elijah Hart, Scott A. Jones, Stephen Boyd, Suzanne Mitchell, Bonnie J. Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Studies in animals and humans suggest that greater levels of sensation seeking and alcohol use are related to individual differences in drug-induced dopamine release. However, it remains unclear whether drug-induced alterations in the functional synchrony between mesostriatal regions are related to sensation seeking and alcohol use. Methods: In this within-subject masked-design study, 21-year-old participants (n = 34) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure ventral tegmental area (VTA) resting-state functional connectivity to the striatum after receiving alcohol (target blood alcohol concentration 0.08 g/dL) or placebo. Participants also completed the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale to assess sensation seeking, the Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire, and self-reported patterns of alcohol and drug use. Results: Voxel-wise analyses within the striatum demonstrated that during the alcohol condition (compared with placebo) young adults had less connectivity between the VTA and bilateral caudate (p < 0.05 corrected). However, young adults exhibiting smaller alcohol-induced decreases or increases in VTA-left caudate connectivity reported greater sensation seeking. Conclusion: These findings provide novel information about how acute alcohol impacts resting-state connectivity, an effect that may be driven by the complex pre and postsynaptic effects of alcohol on various neurotransmitters including dopamine. Further, alcohol-induced differences in VTA connectivity represent a plausible mechanistic substrate underlying sensation seeking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • alcohol
  • mesostriatal
  • sensation seeking
  • ventral tegmental area
  • young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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