Predisposition to and effects of methamphetamine use on the adolescent brain

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Abstract

Adolescence is a period of heightened vulnerability both to addictive behaviors and drug-induced brain damage. Yet, only limited information exists on the brain mechanisms underlying these adolescent-specific characteristics. Moreover, distinctions in brain correlates between predisposition to drug use and effects of drugs in adolescents are unclear. Using cortical thickness and diffusion tensor image analyses, we found greater and more widespread gray and white matter alterations, particularly affecting the frontostriatal system, in adolescent methamphetamine (MA) users compared with adult users. Among adolescent-specific gray matter alterations related to MA use, smaller cortical thickness in the orbitofrontal cortex was associated with family history of drug use. Our findings highlight that the adolescent brain, which undergoes active myelination and maturation, is more vulnerable to MA-related alterations than the adult brain. Furthermore, MA-use-related executive dysfunction was greater in adolescent MA users than in adult users. These findings may provide explanation for the severe behavioral complications and relapses that are common in adolescent-onset drug addiction. Additionally, these results may provide insights into distinguishing the neural mechanisms that underlie the predisposition to drug addiction from effects of drugs in adolescents.

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