Neuroimaging markers of glutamatergic and GABAergic systems in drug addiction: Relationships to resting-state functional connectivity.
As acute ethanol exposure inhibits N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate (Glu) receptors, sudden withdrawal from chronic alcohol use may lead to an increased activation of these receptors with excitotoxic effects. In the longer term, brain levels of Glu and its metabolites, such as glutamine (Gln), are likely to be chronically altered by alcohol, possibly providing a measure of overall abnormal Glu–Gln cycling. However, few studies have assessed concentrations of these metabolites in clinical populations of individuals with alcohol use disorders. Glu and Gln levels were compared in groups of 17 healthy controls and in 13 participants with alcohol dependence. Within the alcohol-dependent group, seven participants had current alcohol use disorder (AUD), and six had AUD in remission for at least 1 year (AUD-R). Neurometabolite concentrations were measured with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) in a predominantly gray matter voxel that included the bilateral anterior cingulate gyri. Tissue segmentation provided an assessment of the proportion of gray matter in the 1H-MRS voxel. The Drinker Inventory of Consequences (DrInC) and Form-90 were administered to all participants to quantify alcohol consequences and use. Glu level was lower and Gln level was higher in the AUD and AUD-R groups relative to the control group; creatine, choline, myo-inositol, and total N-acetyl groups, primarily N-acetylaspartate did not differ across groups. These results were not confounded by age, sex, or proportion of gray matter in the 1H-MRS voxel. Neurometabolite concentrations did not differ between AUD and AUD-R groups. Subsequent regressions in the combined clinical group, treating voxel gray matter proportion as a covariate, revealed that total score on the DrInC was positively correlated with Gln but negatively correlated with both Glu and gray matter proportion. Regression analyses, including DrInC scores and smoking variables, identified a marginal independent effect of smoking on Gln. The current findings of higher Gln and lower Glu in the combined AUD and AUD-R groups might indicate a perturbation of the Glu–Gln cycle in alcohol use disorders. The absence of differences in mean Glu and Gln between the AUD and AUD-R groups suggests that altered Glu–Gln metabolism may either predate the onset of abuse or persist during prolonged abstinence.