Abnormal resting state functional connectivity, as measured by functional MRI, has been reported in alcohol use disorders (AUD). However, the specific neuronal substrates involved and the functional implications of aberrant connectivity in these patients remain elusive. Moreover, it is unclear whether alterations in functional connectivity reflect predisposing factors or are the direct result of exposure to alcohol. Finally, we do not know if treatment and abstinence can promote normalization of functional connectivity in AUD patients. To address some of these open questions, we performed a series of resting-state fMRI experiments in human subjects affected by AUD, and in animal models of alcohol abuse and predisposition to ethanol consumption. Complex network theory was applied to investigate the structure and topology of brain functional connectivity networks. We tested the hypothesis that manipulation of neuronal activity in selected nodes of brain networks can affect network topology and alcohol-seeking behaviours, thus establishing a direct, causal link between aberrant connectivity and symptoms. In this seminar, I will report the results of this translational research programme, and discuss the implications for our understanding of AUD and for the development of potential treatment strategies.
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