The patients?brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and proton MR-spectroscopy upon admission and after short-term sobriety. Only the patients that managed to abstain from alcohol without receiving any psychotherapeutic medication were included in the study, and those with secondary alcohol-induced disorders, as well as heavy cigarette smokers (more than 10 cigarettes a day), were excluded. Ten healthy volunteers (six men, four women), matched for age and gender, were recruited as controls for the study. The data were analysed and evaluated using FSL, a sophisticated software package developed at the Oxford FMRIB Centre, and LCModel (a computer program that analyses spectroscopy data) to give estimates of changes to brain volume, form (morphology), metabolism and function.
The technology enabled the researchers to superimpose the images of the patients?brains upon follow-up on to the images of the brains at the start of the study so that they could see any morphological changes. They also measured how levels of various chemicals, including N-acetylaspartate (NAA) and choline, changed between the two time points. NAA can indicate how intact the brain’s nerve cells are (i.e. it is a metabolic marker of neuronal integrity), while choline provides hints at how cell membranes are being broken down and repaired.
In addition, the neuropsychological performance of the patients was tested at the beginning and end of the study, using a specific test (the d2-test) that primarily measures attention and concentration .
Dr Bartsch said: "After short-term sobriety of less than two months, we found that brain volume had increased by an average of nearly two per cent (1.82%), with a range of -0.19 to 4.32%. Only the one patient with the longest
Source:Oxford University Press