Chronic alcohol drinking slows brain development in adolescent and young adult nonhuman primates

Tatiana A. Shnitko, Zheng Liu, Xiaojie Wang, Kathleen A. Grant, Christopher D. Kroenke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The transition from adolescence to adulthood is associated with brain remodeling in the final stages of developmental growth. It is also a period when a large proportion of this age group engages in binge alcohol drinking (occasional consumption of four to five drinks leading to intoxication) and heavy alcohol drinking (binge drinking on >5 d in a month). Here we report on magnetic resonance imaging of developmental changes in the brain occurring during late adolescence and early adulthood (3.5-7.5 years of age) in a rhesus macaque model of alcohol self-administration. Monkeys were imaged prior to alcohol exposure, and following ~6 and ~12 months of daily (22 h/d) access to ethanol and water. The results revealed that the brain volume increases by 1ml/1.87 years throughout the late adolescence and early adulthood in controls. Heavy alcohol drinking reduced the rate of brain growth by 0.25 ml/year per 1 g/kg daily ethanol. Cortical volume increased throughout this period with no significant effect of alcohol drinking on the cortical growth rate. In subcortical regions, age-dependent increases in the volumes of globus pallidus, thalamus, brainstem, and cerebellum were observed. Heavy drinking attenuated the growth rate of the thalamus. Thus, developmental brain volume changes in the span of late adolescence to young adulthood in macaques is altered by excessive alcohol, an insult that may be linked to the continuation of heavy drinking throughout later adult life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0044-19.2019
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Brain growth
  • Ethanol
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Self administration
  • Thalamus
  • Underage drinking
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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