Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Krista M. Lisdahl

Committee Members

Chris L. Larson, Shawn P. Cahill


Alcohol Dependence, fMRI, Functional Connectivity, Stress, Stress Hormones


Little research has been conducted on neuronal stress processing in individuals

with alcohol dependence (AD). The present study examined neural stress response in AD individuals compared to controls using an fMRI stress task, assessing amygdala

activation and its connectivity to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Further, the study

analyzed the impact of hormone levels and subjective stress on frontal-limbic

connectivity patterns.

Ten abstinent AD individuals and 11 controls were recruited. Subjects

participated in an fMRI stress task. A region of interest (amygdala) analysis was

conducted using area-under-the-curve. This activation was then examined in a whole brain functional connectivity analysis. Follow-up analyses investigated whether brain

activation could be predicted by cortisol, ACTH, and subjective stress.

As hypothesized, the present study found increased amygdala activation in the

AD group in comparison to controls, as well as decreased bilateral amygdala connectivity with the mPFC, as well as fronto-temporal and cerebellar regions. Hormone levels collected a year prior, but not subjective stress, predicted activation and connectivity.