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Alterations in BNST Intrinsic Functional Connectivity in Early Abstinence from Alcohol Use Disorder.

Alcohol and Alcoholism 2023 Februrary 28
AIMS: Maintaining abstinence from alcohol use disorder (AUD) is extremely challenging, partially due to increased symptoms of anxiety and stress that trigger relapse. Rodent models of AUD have identified that the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) contributes to symptoms of anxiety-like behavior and drug-seeking during abstinence. In humans, however, the BNST's role in abstinence remains poorly understood. The aims of this study were to assess BNST network intrinsic functional connectivity in individuals during abstinence from AUD compared to healthy controls and examine associations between BNST intrinsic functional connectivity, anxiety and alcohol use severity during abstinence.

METHODS: The study included resting state fMRI scans from participants aged 21-40 years: 20 participants with AUD in abstinence and 20 healthy controls. Analyses were restricted to five pre-selected brain regions with known BNST structural connections. Linear mixed models were used to test for group differences, with sex as a fixed factor given previously shown sex differences.

RESULTS: BNST-hypothalamus intrinsic connectivity was lower in the abstinent group relative to the control group. There were also pronounced sex differences in both the group and individual analyses; many of the findings were specific to men. Within the abstinent group, anxiety was positively associated with BNST-amygdala and BNST-hypothalamus connectivity, and men, not women, showed a negative relationship between alcohol use severity and BNST-hypothalamus connectivity.

CONCLUSIONS: Understanding differences in connectivity during abstinence may help explain the clinically observed anxiety and depression symptoms during abstinence and may inform the development of individualized treatments.

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