BACKGROUND We tested the hypothesis that reduced levels of the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor occur in alcohol dependency using single photon emission tomography (SPET) and the specific GABA-benzodiazepine ligand, 123I-iomazenil.
METHOD Neurologically and cognitively unimpaired abstinent alcohol-dependent (n = 12) and non-alcohol-dependent male subject (n = 14) underwent a 123I-iomazenil SPET scan. SPET and magnetic resonance images were co-registered and voxel-based statistical tests performed. Subjects' clinical and alcohol history were obtained with standard questionnaires. The relationships between clinical and alcohol variables and the regional level of GABA-benzodiazepine receptors were investigated using multiple regression analysis.
RESULTS Abstinent alcohol-dependent subjects had decreased levels of GABA-benzodiazepine receptor compared with non-alcohol-dependent subjects within the frontal, parietal and temporal cortices, including regions in which grey matter atrophy was absent.
CONCLUSIONS Alcohol dependency is associated with reduced GABA-benzodiazepine receptor levels in the absence of grey matter atrophy in some cortical regions, such as within the parietal lobe. Regional variability of reduction in GABA-benzodiazepine receptors demonstrates that alcohol does not have a global, toxic effect on the brain.