Remapping the Brain to Compensate for Impairment in Recovering Alcoholics



Chanraud, S., Pitel, A.-L., Mueller-Oehring, E. M., Pfefferbaum, A., & Sullivan, E. V. (2013). Remapping the brain to compensate for impairment in recovering alcoholics. Cerebral Cortex, 23(1), 97-104. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr381


Abnormal brain activity may reflect compensation when observed in patients who perform normally on tests requiring functions usually observed as impaired. Operational criteria defining compensation have been described and aid in distinguishing compensatory from chance events. Here, we tested whether previously published functional magnetic resonance imaging data acquired in 15 recovering alcoholics and 15 controls at rest and while performing a spatial working memory task would fulfill criteria defining functional compensation. Multivariate analysis tested how well abnormal activation in the affected group predicted normal performance, despite low or no activation in brain regions invoked by controls to accomplish the same task. By identifying networks that uniquely and positively correlated with good performance, we provide evidence for compensatory recruitment of cerebellar-based functional networks by alcoholics. Whereas controls recruited prefrontal-cerebellar regions VI/Crus I known to subserve working memory, alcoholics recruited 2 other parallel frontocerebellar loops: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)-cerebellar VIII system during rest and DLPFC-cerebellar VI system while task engaged. Greater synchronous activity between cerebellar lobule VIII and DLPFC at rest and greater activation within cerebellar lobule VI and DLPFC during task predicted better working memory performance. Thus, higher intrinsic cerebellar activity in alcoholics was an adequate condition for triggering task-relevant activity in the frontal cortex required for normal working memory performance.

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