Alterations in cortical benzodiazepine receptor density have been described in postmortem and in vivo studies of alcoholic subjects. The authors attempted to replicate these findings using single photon emission computed tomography and the benzodiazepine receptor radiotracer [(123) I]iomazenil.Method
They measured the distribution volume of benzodiazepine receptors in 11 recently detoxified patients with type II alcoholism and 11 healthy comparison subjects. The tracer was given as a bolus followed by a continuous infusion to achieve sustained binding equilibrium at the benzodiazepine receptors. Data were analyzed by using a region of interest method (regions of interest were identified on coregistered magnetic resonance imaging scans) and by a pixel-by-pixel method (distribution volume maps were analyzed with statistical parametric mapping for between-group differences).Results
The region of interest analysis revealed that alcoholic patients had significantly lower benzodiazepine distribution volume than comparison subjects in the frontal, anterior cingulate, and cerebellar cortices. Statistical parametric mapping revealed two large excursions in which the distribution volume in alcoholic patients was significantly lower than in comparison subjects: the anterior cingulate, extending into the right middle frontal gyrus, and the left occipital cortex.Conclusions
Benzodiazepine receptor distribution volume is significantly lower in several cortical regions and the cerebellum in alcoholic subjects than in healthy comparison subjects. These results are consistent with previous reports and might indicate either a toxic effect of alcoholism on benzodiazepine receptors or a vulnerability factor for developing alcoholism.