Pairing neutral cues with alcohol intoxication: new findings in executive and attention networks

Brandon G. Oberlin, Mario Dzemidzic, William J.A. Eiler, Claire R. Carron, Christina M. Soeurt, Martin H. Plawecki, Nicholas J. Grahame, Sean J. O’Connor, David A. Kareken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Rationale: Alcohol-associated stimuli capture attention, yet drinkers differ in the precise stimuli that become paired with intoxication. Objectives: Extending our prior work to examine the influence of alcoholism risk factors, we paired abstract visual stimuli with intravenous alcohol delivered covertly and examined brain responses to these Pavlovian-conditioned stimuli in fMRI when subjects were not intoxicated. Methods: Sixty healthy drinkers performed task-irrelevant alcohol conditioning that presented geometric shapes as conditioned stimuli. Shapes were paired with a rapidly rising alcohol limb (conditioned stimulus; CS+) using intravenous alcohol infusion targeting a final peak breath alcohol concentration of 0.045 g/dL or saline (CS−) infusion at matched rates. On day 2, subjects performed monetary delay discounting outside the scanner to assess delay tolerance and then underwent event-related fMRI while performing the same task with CS+, CS−, and an irrelevant symbol. Results: CS+ elicited stronger activation than CS− in frontoparietal executive/attention and orbitofrontal reward-associated networks. Risk factors including family history, recent drinking, sex, and age of drinking onset did not relate to the [CS+ > CS−] activation. Delay-tolerant choice and [CS+ > CS−] activation in right inferior parietal cortex were positively related. Conclusions: Networks governing executive attention and reward showed enhanced responses to stimuli experimentally paired with intoxication, with the right parietal cortex implicated in both alcohol cue pairing and intertemporal choice. While different from our previous study results in 14 men, we believe this paradigm in a large sample of male and female drinkers offers novel insights into Pavlovian processes less affected by idiosyncratic drug associations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2725-2737
Number of pages13
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Associative conditioning
  • BA 40
  • Classical conditioning
  • Cue reactivity
  • Ethanol
  • Intertemporal choice
  • Laboratory task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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