Partial K-Complex Recovery Following Short-Term Abstinence in Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder

Adrian R. Willoughby, Massimiliano de Zambotti, Fiona C. Baker, Ian M. Colrain

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Background: The K-complex (KC) is a brain potential characteristic of nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep resulting from the synchronous activity of a large population of neurons and hypothesized to reflect brain integrity. KC amplitude is lower in individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD) compared with age-matched controls, but its recovery with short-term abstinence has not been studied. Therefore, we investigated whether the KC shows significant recovery over the first 4 months of abstinence in individuals with AUD. Methods: A total of 16 recently abstinent AUD individuals (46.6 ± 9.3 years) and 13 gender and age-matched healthy controls (41.6 ± 8.3 years) were studied on 3 occasions: the Initial session was within 1 month of the AUD individuals' last drink, then 1 and 3 months later. Overnight electroencephalogram was recorded while participants were presented with tones during stage 2 NREM sleep to elicit KCs. Results: At the Initial session, AUD participants showed significantly lower KC amplitude and incidence compared with controls. In the AUD individuals, KC amplitude increased significantly from the Initial to the 1-month session. KC incidence showed a marginally significant increase. Neither KC amplitude nor incidence changed from the 1-month to the 3-month session. No changes in KC amplitude or incidence across sessions were observed in the control group. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate partial KC recovery during the first 2 months of abstinence. This recovery is consistent with the time course of structural brain recovery in abstinent AUD individuals demonstrated by recent neuroimaging results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1417-1424
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Abstinence
  • Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Electroencephalogram
  • K-Complex
  • Sleep

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