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The impact of age on olfactory alcohol cue-reactivity

Research group Willuhn
Publication year 2023
Published in Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research
Authors Janna Cousijn, Gabry Mies, Nora Runia, Maik Derksen, Ingo Willuhn, Heidi Lesscher

BACKGROUND: Adolescence is marked not only by rapid surges in the prevalence of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) but also by remarkable recovery rates, as most adolescent-onset AUDs naturally resolve over time. Little is known about the differential vulnerability of adolescents and adults. Therefore, this study aimed to unravel the moderating role of age by comparing neural alcohol cue-reactivity, an important AUD biomarker, between low-to-high beer-drinking adolescent (n = 50, 16 to 18 years), and adult (n = 51, 30 to 35 years) males matched on drinking severity.

METHODS: Associations between beer odor-induced brain activity and AUD diagnosis, severity of alcohol use-related problems, recent alcohol use, binge-drinking frequency, and task-induced craving were investigated across and between age groups in regions of interest thought to be central in alcohol cue-reactivity: the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and striatal subregions (nucleus accumbens and caudate putamen). These analyses were complemented by exploratory whole-brain analyses.

RESULTS: Pre-task beer craving increased pre-to-post task in adolescents only. Individual differences in alcohol use, binge drinking, and craving did not relate to beer odor-induced activity. Although region-of-interest analyses did not reach significance, whole-brain analyses showed that adolescents with AUD, compared with adolescents without AUD and adults with AUD, had higher beer odor-induced activity in a large mesocorticolimbic cluster encompassing the right caudate, nucleus accumbens, orbitofrontal cortex, and the olfactory sulcus. Activity in the right caudate and putamen was positively associated with the severity of alcohol use-related problems in adolescents but negatively associated in adults.

CONCLUSION: These findings suggest a differential role of alcohol cue-reactivity in adolescents compared with adults with AUD and highlight the need for further studies investigating the role of age in the fundamental processes underlying the development of and recovery from of AUD.

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