Disrupted development of neural connections by alcohol initiation in adolescence


Disrupted Development of Neural Connections by Alcohol Initiation in Adolescence           

The overall objective of this ongoing longitudinal study are: to conduct a comprehensive investigation of brain development during adolescence and early adulthood; and to determine how brain development is altered when individuals begin to use alcohol (as well as other drugs, such as marijuana) during this period. The researchers employ an extensive two-day data collection protocol at each study time point, consisting of behavioral assessments (interviews, questionnaires, computerized testing), brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; high resolution anatomical scans, several types of diffusion scans, spectroscopy, resting functional scans), and electroencephalography (EEG). They also have a one-time collection of genetic data (single-nucleotide polymorphisms). Data collection waves occur at two-year intervals and currently the researchers are completing their fourth assessment. The data analyses investigate connections among these various forms of data, such as how initiation of alcohol use alters the neural synapse thinning (elimination of weak connections) and neural axon thickening (strengthening of highly active connections) that occurs during normal adolescent brain development. The group relies on MSI resources heavily to achieve this “connectivity” aspect of the brain-behavior research, which is similar in form to the Human Connectome Project. For example, from high-resolution anatomical MRI scans, the researchers extract complete representations of the cortical surface in both brain hemispheres and identify significant variations in its structure that relate to differences in behavior across individuals; from diffusion MRI scans they compute measures of the microstructural organization of neural fibers that connect brain regions, and then conduct a “virtual dissection” of these fibers using probabilistic tractography; from resting functional MRI scans they derive patterns of physiological connectivity that map fundamental brain networks; and from EEG recordings they identify coordinated synchronization of electrophysiological activity within brain networks in response to cues to inhibit ongoing behavior. 

A bibliography of this group’s publications acknowledging MSI is attached.

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