Beer flavor provokes striatal dopamine release in male drinkers: Mediation by family history of alcoholism

Brandon G. Oberlin, Mario Dzemidzic, Stella M. Tran, Christina M. Soeurt, Daniel S. Albrecht, Karmen K. Yoder, David A. Kareken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

47 Scopus citations


Striatal dopamine (DA) is increased by virtually all drugs of abuse, including alcohol. However, drug-associated cues are also known to provoke striatal DA transmission-a phenomenon linked to the motivated behaviors associated with addiction. To our knowledge, no one has tested if alcohol's classically conditioned flavor cues, in the absence of a significant pharmacologic effect, are capable of eliciting striatal DA release in humans. Employing positron emission tomography (PET), we hypothesized that beer's flavor alone can reduce the binding potential (BP) of [11 C]raclopride (RAC; a reflection of striatal DA release) in the ventral striatum, relative to an appetitive flavor control. Forty-nine men, ranging from social to heavy drinking, mean age 25, with a varied family history of alcoholism underwent two [11 C]RAC PET scans: one while tasting beer, and one while tasting Gatorade. Relative to the control flavor of Gatorade, beer flavor significantly increased self-reported desire to drink, and reduced [11 C]RAC BP, indicating that the alcohol-associated flavor cues induced DA release. BP reductions were strongest in subjects with first-degree alcoholic relatives. These results demonstrate that alcohol-conditioned flavor cues can provoke ventral striatal DA release, absent significant pharmacologic effects, and that the response is strongest in subjects with a greater genetic risk for alcoholism. Striatal DA responses to salient alcohol cues may thus be an inherited risk factor for alcoholism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1617-1624
Number of pages8
Issue number9
StatePublished - Aug 1 2013


  • alcohol abuse
  • classical conditioning
  • cue reactivity
  • ethanol
  • heritable risk
  • taste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Beer flavor provokes striatal dopamine release in male drinkers: Mediation by family history of alcoholism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this