Posterior Alpha Power During Working Memory Maintenance in Individuals with and Without Alcohol Use Disorder

Natalie Rilo

Authors:   Natalie Rilo, Julianne Price, Christian Garcia, Ben Lewis, Sara Jo Nixon

Faculty Mentor:  Sara Jo Nixon

College:  College of Medicine


We previously reported performance impairments on a working memory (WM) task in individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD). It is unclear what neural processes may be associated with such alterations. Here we examined posterior alpha power (PAP), an index of inhibition, during WM maintenance in a sample of treatment-seekers with AUD relative to healthy controls (HC). PAP was extracted during a 9 second maintenance period (denoted by a fixation cross) of a WM task from 56 HC and 52 newly-abstinent individuals with AUD. A mixed linear model compared PAP controlling for baseline between group (HC vs. AUD) and sex. A secondary analysis explored PAP with performance. Main effects of group (p=.01) and sex (p=.003) showed lower PAP in individuals with AUD and women. There was no interaction between group and sex. A differential relationship between PAP and performance was observed for groups (p<.001). Lower PAP was associated with better performance for individuals with AUD (p=.09) although unrelated for HC. Although explanations for this counterintuitive finding are speculative, the pattern is consistent with what we have seen in acute alcohol administration and aging and suggest that AUD participants may focus direct attentional resources to processing the irrelevant fixation cross presented.

Poster Pitch

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2 Responses
  1. Julia Johnston

    Hi Natalie! Great job on your poster! As far as next steps, what does your research mean for the next study to come?

    1. Natalie Rilo

      Hi Julia, thank you so much! For the next study, we are going to be looking at the other steps during the working memory process – encoding and retrieval – to evaluate if we see similar differences. Additionally, we will be looking at other brain wave frequencies across different areas of the scalp during the maintenance phase to try to determine if this could give some explanation for the differences seen between our groups.