Mueller-Oehring, E. M., Schulte, T., Pfefferbaum, A., & Sullivan, E. V. (2022). Disruption of cerebellar-cortical functional connectivity predicts balance instability in alcohol use disorder. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 235, 109435.
A neural substrate of alcohol-related instability of gait and balance is the cerebellum. Whether disruption of neural communication between cerebellar and cortical brain regions exerts an influence on ataxia in alcohol use disorder (AUD) was the focus of this study.
Study groups comprised 32 abstinent AUD participants and 22 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (CTL). All participants underwent clinical screening, motor testing, and resting-state functional MR imaging analyzed for functional connectivity (FC) among 90 regions across the whole cerebrum and cerebellum. Ataxia testing quantified gait and balance with the Fregly-Graybiel Ataxia Battery conducted with and without vision.
The AUD group achieved lower scores than the CTL group on balance performance, which was disproportionately worse for eyes open than eyes closed in the AUD relative to the CTL group. Differences in ataxia were accompanied by differences in FC marked by cerebellar-frontal and cerebellar-parietal hyperconnectivity and cortico-cortical hypoconnectivity in the AUD relative to the control group. Lifetime alcohol consumption correlated significantly with AUD-related FC aberrations, which explained upwards of 69% of the AUD ataxia score variance.
Heavy, chronic alcohol consumption is associated with disorganized neural communication among cerebellar-cortical regions and contributes to ataxia in AUD. Ataxia, which is known to accelerate with age and be exacerbated with AUD, can threaten functional independence. Longitudinal studies are warranted to address whether extended sobriety quells ataxia and normalizes aberrant FC contributing to instability.