You don't have to be a drinker for your brain to be affected by alcoholism.
A new study shows that just having a parent with an alcohol use disorder affects how your brain transitions between active and resting states - regardless of your own drinking habits.
The study, performed by researchers at Purdue University and the Indiana University School of Medicine, discovered that the brain reconfigures itself between completing a mentally demanding task and resting.
But for the brain of someone with a family history of an alcohol use disorder, this reconfiguration doesn't happen.
While the missing transition doesn't seem to affect how well a person performs the mentally demanding task itself, it might be related to larger scale brain functions that give rise to behaviors associated with addiction. In particular, study subjects without this brain process demonstrated greater impatience in waiting for rewards, a behavior associated with addiction.
Findings are published in the journal NeuroImage. The work was led by Enrico Amico, a former Purdue postdoctoral researcher who is now a researcher at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.
How the brain reconfigures between active and resting states is like how a computer closes down a program after you're finished with it.
"The moment you close a program, a computer has to remove it from memory, reorganize the cache and maybe clear out some temporary files. This helps the computer to prepare for the next task," said Joaquín Goñi, a Purdue assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
"In a similar way, we've found that this reconfiguration process in the human brain is associated with finishing a task and getting ready for what's next." Goñi's research group, the CONNplexity Lab, takes a computational approach to neuroscience and cognitive science.
Past research has shown that a family history of alcoholism affects a person's brain anatomy and physiology, but most studies have looked at this effect only in separate active and quiet resting states rather than the transition between them.
A lot of what brains do is switch between different tasks and states. We suspected that this task switching might be somewhat lower in people with a family history of alcoholism." David Kareken, professor of neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center Related Stories
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