Previous studies of brain structure in methamphetamine users have yielded inconsistent findings, possibly reflecting small sample size and inconsistencies in duration of methamphetamine abstinence as well as sampling and analyses methods. Here we report on a relatively large sample of abstinent methamphetamine users at various stages of long-term abstinence.
Chronic methamphetamine users ( n = 99), abstinent from the drug ranging from 12 to 621 days, and healthy controls ( n = 86) received T1-weighted structural magnetic resonance imaging brain scans. Subcortical and cortical gray-matter volumes and cortical thickness were measured and the effects of group, duration of abstinence, duration of methamphetamine use and onset age of methamphetamine use were investigated using the Freesurfer software package.
Methamphetamine users did not differ from controls in gray-matter volumes, except for a cluster in the right lateral occipital cortex where gray-matter volume was smaller, and for regions mainly in the bilateral superior frontal gyrui where thickness was greater. Duration of abstinence correlated positively with gray-matter volumes in whole brain, bilateral accumbens nuclei and insulae clusters, and right hippocampus; and with thickness in a right insula cluster. Duration of methamphetamine use correlated negatively with gray-matter volume and cortical thickness of a cluster in the right lingual and pericalcarine cortex.
Chronic methamphetamine use induces hard-to-recover cortical thickening in bilateral superior frontal gyri and recoverable volumetric reduction in right hippocampus, bilateral accumbens nuclei and bilateral cortical regions around insulae. These alternations might contribute to methamphetamine-induced neurocognitive disfunctions and reflect a regional specific response of the brain to methamphetamine.