Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with brain aberrations, including abnormalities in frontal and limbic brain regions. In a prior diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) study of neuronal circuitry connecting the frontal lobes and limbic system structures, we demonstrated decreases in white matter fractional anisotropy in abstinent alcoholic men. In the present study, we examined sex differences in alcoholism-related abnormalities of white matter connectivity and their association with alcoholism history. The dMRI scans were acquired from 49 abstinent alcoholic individuals (26 women) and 41 nonalcoholic controls (22 women). Tract-based spatial statistical tools were used to estimate regional FA of white matter tracts and to determine sex differences and their relation to measures of alcoholism history. Sex-related differences in white matter connectivity were observed in association with alcoholism: Compared to nonalcoholic men, alcoholic men had diminished FA in portions of the corpus callosum, the superior longitudinal fasciculi II and III, and the arcuate fasciculus and extreme capsule. In contrast, alcoholic women had higher FA in these regions. Sex differences also were observed for correlations between corpus callosum FA and length of sobriety. Our results suggest that sexual dimorphism in white matter microstructure in abstinent alcoholics may implicate underlying differences in the neurobehavioral liabilities for developing alcohol abuse disorders, or for sequelae following abuse.
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