MRI Shows Lasting Brain Changes in Women After Stimulant Addiction

July 16, 2015

Magnetic resonance imaging shows that women have changes in the brain’s gray matter volume after stimulant addiction.

Magnetic resonance imaging shows changes in gray matter volume (GMV) among women who are dependent on stimulant drugs, but not in men, according to a study published in Radiology.

Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora performed a prospective parallel group study to investigate whether there were differences among the GMV in men and women who abstained from drug use, but who had been previously addicted to stimulant drugs.

Fifty-nine subjects (28 women and 31 men) who had been dependent on cocaine, amphetamines, and/or methamphetamine for an average of 15.7 years participated in the study. There were 68 control subjects (28 women and 40 men). All underwent MRI.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"39672","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_9593094188598","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3991","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"float: right; height: 277px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px;","title":"Jody Tanabe, MD","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

The results showed that women who had been dependent had significantly lower GMV in widespread brain regions compared with female controls, but there were no significant differences between the males in the formerly dependent and control groups. The dependence symptom count negatively correlated with GMV in the nucleus accumbens in women but not in men, and the behavioral approach and impulsivity correlated negatively with frontal and temporal GMV changes in women with stimulant dependence but not in the other groups.

“We found that after an average of 13.5 months of abstinence, women who were previously dependent on stimulants had significantly less gray matter volume in several brain areas compared to healthy women,” senior author, Jody Tanabe, MD, professor of radiology, vice chair of Research, and neuroradiology section chief at the School of Medicine, said in a release. “These brain areas are important for decision making, emotion, reward processing and habit formation.”

The researchers concluded that these findings may provide a clue to the biological processes underlying the clinical course of stimulant abuse in men and women.

“Compared to men, women tend to begin cocaine or amphetamine use at an earlier age, show accelerated escalation of drug use, report more difficulty quitting and, upon seeking treatment, report using larger quantities of these drugs,” Tanabe said in the release. “We hope that our findings will lead to further investigation into gender differences in substance dependence and, thus, more effective treatments.”