Reduced Amygdala Activation in Young Adults at High Risk of Alcoholism: Studies from the Oklahoma Family Health Patterns Project

  • David C. Glahn
    Neuroimaging Core, Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
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  • William R. Lovallo
    Address reprint requests to William R. Lovallo, Ph.D., Behavioral Sciences Laboratories (151A), Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 921 NE 13th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73104
    Behavioral Sciences Laboratories, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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  • Peter T. Fox
    Research Imaging Center, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and South Texas Veterans Health Care System, San Antonio, Texas
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Published:February 16, 2007DOI:


      Risk of alcoholism is higher in those with a positive family history (FH+) and in those showing behavioral disinhibition, possibly reflecting altered limbic system function.


      We performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 17 nonabusing young adults, 9 with FH+ and high in disinhibition versus 8 with a negative family history (FH−) and low in disinhibition. We probed limbic system reactivity with a recognition task using faces expressing fear versus geometric objects.


      Subjects with FH− had robust activation to the faces in the region of the right and left amygdalar complexes (p’s < .05), while subjects with FH+ had no such activation (p’s > .46). The blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the region of the amygdala was correlated with scores on the self-report measure of temperament in the combined groups (r = .51, p < .04).


      Behaviorally disinhibited temperament, found in many with FH+, may be associated with amygdalar hyporesponsiveness and a failure to avoid risky decisions, increasing the person’s liability for alcohol abuse.

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