Family history density of alcoholism relates to left nucleus accumbens volume in adolescent girls

Anita Cservenka, Alicia J. Gillespie, Paul G. Michael, Bonnie J. Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Objective: A family history of alcoholism is a signifi- cant risk factor for the development of alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Because common structural abnormalities are present in reward and affective brain regions in alcoholics and those with familial alcoholism, the current study examined the relationship between familial loading of AUDs and volumes of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (NAcc) in largely alcohol-naive adolescents, ages 12–16 years (N = 140).

Method: The amygdala and NAcc were delineated on each participant’s T1- weighted anatomical scan, using FMRIB Software Library’s FMRIB Integrated Registration&Segmentation Tool, and visually inspected for accuracy and volume outliers. In the 140 participants with accurate segmentation (75 male/65 female), subcortical volumes were represented as a ratio to intracranial volume (ICV). A family history density (FHD) score was calculated for each adolescent based on the presence of AUDs in first- and second-degree relatives (range: 0.03–1.50; higher scores represent a greater prevalence of familial AUDs). Multiple regressions, with age and sex controlled for, examined the association between FHD and left and right amygdala and NAcc volume/ICV.

Results: There was a significant positive relationship between FHD and left NAcc volume/ ICV (ΔR2 =.04, p =.02). Post hoc regressions indicated that this effect was only significant in females (ΔR2 =.11, p =.006).

Conclusions: This finding suggests that the degree of familial alcoholism, genetic or otherwise, is associated with alterations in reward-related brain structure. Further work will be necessary to examine whether FHD is related to future alcohol-related problems and reward-related behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-56
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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