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Measuring Alcohol and Stress Interactions with Structural and Perfusion MRI

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Alcohol abuse continues to be a major problem in the United States with an estimated 14 million adults meeting the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or alcoholism at an estimated cost of $185 billion. Chronic alcohol exposure has been shown to impact structure and function of the brain. Since most of what is known of alcohol's effects on the brain is based on studies of individuals who have abused for a long time, it is unclear whether some of the effects might occur early in the abuse process. Additionally, human studies are often complicated by many factors incuding polydrug abuse, poor nutritional states and other medical conditions. Another complicating factor is the interaction of stress and alcohol. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we will examine the the effects of chronic alcohol self- administration on brain structure and function in a group of monkeys that have been mother-reared or nursery-reared. MRI scans will be acquired to determine whether there are differences in stucture or functions as a result of alcohol exposure and whether rearing conditions play a role in these effects. MRI techniques will also be used to examine how chronic alcohol consumption affects cerebral blood flow, which is a measure of neuronal activity. Because we will conduct these measures both before and after alcohol exposure in the same "young adult" animals, we will be able to track any changes that might occur early in alcohol abuse which is something that cannot be accomplished in human studies. Another goal is to adapt imaging tools and computer software that are used to measure the brains of humans to the monkey brain. To accomplish this, we will collaborate with the National Alliance for Medical Computing (NA-MIC), an existing NIH Center for Biomedical Computing. We can control all variables associated with alcohol self-administration in these monkeys. They will be monitored both before and after exposure to alcohol, thus, we will be able to monitor the progression of any changes in structure or function that directly result from alcohol exposure. These studies will help identify how exposure to long-term alcohol might affect how the brain works.

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