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Family history of alcohol dependence modulates functional neurophysiology in mood/anxiety disorders

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 October 2012

Z. Sjoerds*
Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Department of Psychiatry, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
M.-J. van Tol
NeuroImaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands Clinical Affective Neuroimaging Laboratory, Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany
W. van den Brink
Department of Psychiatry, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
N. J. A. van der Wee
Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
A. Aleman
NeuroImaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
A. T. F. Beekman
Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
B. W. J. H. Penninx
Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Center of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
D. J. Veltman
Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Department of Psychiatry, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
*Address for correspondence: Z. Sjoerds, M.Sc., VU University Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry, MF-A422, PO Box 7057, 1007 MB Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (Email:



A family history (FH) of alcohol dependence (AD) not only increases the risk for AD, but is also associated with an increased risk for mood and anxiety disorders. However, it is unknown how a FH of AD affects neural substrates in patients with mood and anxiety disorders. In this study we examined the effects of an alcoholic FH on cognitive and emotional functions in these patients using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).


In a sample of non-alcoholic patients with depressive and/or anxiety disorders from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) neuroimaging study, patients with a first-degree FH of AD (FH + ; n = 31) were compared with patients without a FH (FH–; n = 77) on performance and brain activation during visuospatial planning and emotional word encoding. Results were compared with those of healthy controls (HCs) without a FH of AD (n = 31).


FH+ patients performed slower during planning with increasing task load, coupled with stronger blood oxygen level-dependent responses in dorsal prefrontal areas compared with FH− patients and HCs. FH was not associated with performance differences during word encoding, but right insula activation during positive word encoding was present in FH+ patients, comparable with HCs, but absent in FH− patients.


This study demonstrates subtle impairments during planning in FH+ compared with FH− patients and HCs, whereas activation during mood-incongruent stimuli in FH+ patients was similar to HCs but not FH− patients, suggesting that the presence of a FH of AD is a useful marker for the neurophysiological profile in mood/anxiety disorders and possible predictor for treatment success.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012 

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