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Article  December 1, 2014

Compromised Frontocerebellar Circuitry Contributes to Nonplanning Impulsivity in Recovering Alcoholics

SRI Authors Tilman Schulte, Adolf Pfefferbaum



Jung, Y.-C., Schulte, T., Mueller-Oehring, E. M., Namkoong, K., Pfefferbaum, A., & Sullivan, E. V. (2014). Compromised frontocerebellar circuitry contributes to nonplanning impulsivity in recovering alcoholics. Psychopharmacology, 231(23), 4443-4453. 




Degradation of frontocerebellar circuitry is a principal neural mechanism of alcoholism-related executive dysfunctions affecting impulse control and cognitive planning.


We tested the hypothesis that alcoholic patients would demonstrate compromised dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) -cerebellar functional connectivity when adjusting their strategies to accommodate uncertain conditions and would recruit compensatory brain regions to overcome ineffective response patterns.


Twenty-six alcoholics and 26 healthy participants underwent functional MRI in two sequential runs while performing a decision-making task. The first run required a response regardless of level of ambiguity of the stimuli; the second run allowed a PASS option (i.e., no response choice), which was useful on ambiguous trials.


Healthy controls demonstrated strong synchronous activity between the dACC and cerebellum while planning and executing a behavioral strategy. By contrast, alcoholics showed synchronous activity between the dACC and the premotor cortex, perhaps enabling successful compensation for accuracy and reaction time in certain conditions; however, a negative outcome of this strategy was rigidity in modifying response strategy to accommodate uncertain conditions. Compared with the alcoholic group, the control group had lower nonplanning impulsiveness, which correlated with using the option PASS to respond in uncertain conditions.


These findings suggest that compromised dACC-cerebellar functional circuitry contributes to recruitment of an alternative network-dACC-premotor cortex- to perform well under low-risk, unambiguous conditions. This compensatory network, however, was inadequate to enable the alcoholics to avert making poor choices in planning and executing an effective behavioral strategy in high-risk, uncertain conditions.

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