Altered neural dynamics in occipital cortices serving visual-spatial processing in heavy alcohol users

Brandon J. Lew, Alex I. Wiesman, Michael T. Rezich, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Visual-spatial processing deficits have been previously linked to heavy alcohol use, but the underlying neurological mechanisms are poorly understood. Neuroimaging studies have shown alcohol-related aberrations in occipital cortices that appear to be associated with these neuropsychological deficits in visual-spatial processing, however the neural dynamics underlying this altered processing remains unknown. Methods: Twenty-three adults with high scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test – Consumption (male: ⩾5, female: ⩾4) were compared to 30 demographically-matched controls with low Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test – Consumption scores (⩽2). All participants completed a visual-spatial processing task while undergoing high-density magnetoencephalography. Time-frequency windows of interest were determined using a data-driven method, and spectrally-specific neural activity was imaged using a beamforming approach. Permutation testing of peak voxel time series was then used to statistically compare across groups. Results: Participants with heavy alcohol use responded slower on the task and their performance was more variable. The magnetoencephalography data indicated strong theta (4–8 Hz), alpha (10–16 Hz), and gamma (62–72 Hz) responses in posterior brain regions across both groups. Following voxel time-series extraction, significant group differences were found in the left and right visual association cortices from about 375–550 ms post-stimulus, such that adults with heavy alcohol use had blunted alpha responses compared to controls. Conclusion: Individuals with heavy alcohol use exhibited aberrant occipital alpha activity during visual-spatial processing. These data are the first to show spectrally-specific differences during visual-spatial processing related to heavy alcohol use, and highlight alcohol’s effect on systems-level neural activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-253
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Alcohol
  • alpha
  • magnetoencephalography
  • occipital
  • oscillations
  • visual-spatial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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