Associations between nucleus accumbens structural connectivity, brain function, and initiation of binge drinking

Angelica M. Morales, Scott A. Jones, Gareth Harman, Jessica Patching-Bunch, Bonnie J. Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Adolescent alcohol use is associated with increased risk for alcohol use disorders later in life; therefore, identifying biomarkers for initiation of heavy alcohol use, such as individual differences in the development of white-matter microstructure, may inform prevention strategies that improve public health. This prospective cohort study included 40 adolescents, ages 14 and 15, without substantial history of alcohol or drug use at baseline. Fractional anisotropy (FA), an index of white-matter microstructure, was assessed in pathways connecting the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) to the rest of the brain using diffusion tensor imaging. Path analyses were conducted voxel-wise within these pathways to examine direct effects of premorbid FA on number of months between baseline assessment and the onset of binge drinking and indirect effects mediated by NAcc activation during decision making assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Adolescents with lower premorbid accumbofrontal FA began binge drinking sooner, an effect which was mediated by greater NAcc activation during decision making involving greater levels of risk and reward (P <.05 corrected). An additional direct effect of FA on duration to onset of binge drinking was observed in white matter near the ventral pallidum, as adolescents with lower premorbid FA in this region began binge drinking sooner (P <.05 corrected). Findings suggest that delayed maturation of prefrontal white matter is associated with less top-down control over striatal sensitivity to reward. These factors, along with individual differences in white matter proximal to ventral pallidum, may represent premorbid risk factors for earlier initiation of heavy alcohol use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12767
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • adolescence
  • alcohol
  • diffusion weighted imaging
  • prospective

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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