Longitudinal brain magnetic resonance imaging study of the alcohol-preferring rat. Part I: Adult brain growth

Edith V. Sullivan, Elfar Adalsteinsson, Rohit Sood, Dirk Mayer, Richard Bell, William McBride, Ting Kai Li, Adolf Pfefferbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Background: The alcohol-preferring (P) rat, a Wistar strain selectively bred to consume large amounts of alcohol voluntarily, has been used as an animal model of human alcoholism for 3 decades. Heretofore, knowledge about brain morphology has been confined to postmortem examination. Quantitative neuroimaging procedures make it feasible to examine the potential longitudinal effects of alcohol exposure in vivo, while controlling modifying factors, such as age, nutrition, and exercise. To date, few imaging studies have considered what morphological changes occur with age in the rodent brain, and none has systematically applied quantitative neuroimaging approaches to measure volume changes in regional brain structures over extended periods in the adult rat. Methods: We used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a longitudinal design to examine 2 cohorts of adult P rats, never exposed to alcohol: Cohort A included 8 rats, 7 of which survived the entire study (578 days) and 4 MRI sessions; Cohort B included 9 rats, all of which survived the study (452 days) and 5 MRI sessions. Results: Growth in whole-brain volume reached maximal levels by about 450 days of age, whereas body weight continued its gain without asymptote. Growth was not uniform across the brain structures measured. Over the initial 12 months of the study, the corpus callosum area expanded 36%, cerebellum 17%, and hippocampus 10%, whereas ventricle size was unchanged. Factors affecting growth rate estimates included litter effects, MR image signal-to-noise ratio, and measurement error. Conclusion: Unlike longitudinal human reports of regional volume declines in aging brain tissue, several brain structures in adult rats continued growing, and some growth patterns were litter-dependent. Determining normal regional growth patterns of brain and of the substantial variance exerted by litter differences, even in selectively bred rats, is essential for establishing baselines against which normal and aberrant dynamic changes can be detected in animal models of aging and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1234-1247
Number of pages14
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Age
  • Alcohol
  • Brain Growth
  • Morphology
  • MRI
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology

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