Are there volumetric brain differences associated with the use of cocaine and amphetamine-type stimulants?

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Abstract

Highlights

★ Loci of decreased cortical volume are consistently reported. ★ Almost all studies indicate decreased volume in all or parts of the frontal cortex. ★ A core group of studies implicate the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the insula. ★ An enlarged striatal volume has been repeatedly observed. ★ Reports on volume differences in the hippocampus and amygdala have been equivocal.

While a large number of studies have examined brain volume differences associated with cocaine use, much less is known about structural differences related to amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) use. What is known about cocaine may help to interpret emerging information on the interaction of brain volume with ATS consumption. To date, volumetric studies on the two types of stimulant have focused almost exclusively on brain differences associated with chronic use. There is considerable variability in the findings between studies which may be explained in part by the wide variety of methodologies employed. Despite this variability, seven recurrent themes are worth noting: (1) loci of lower cortical volume (approximately 10% on average) are consistently reported, (2) almost all studies indicate less volume in all or parts of the frontal cortex, (3) more specifically, a core group of studies implicate the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (including the medial portion of the orbital frontal cortex) and (4) the insula, (5) an enlarged striatal volume has been repeatedly observed, (6) reports on volume differences in the hippocampus and amygdala have been equivocal, (7) evidence supporting differential interaction of brain structure with cocaine vs. ATS is scant but the volume of all or parts of the temporal cortex appear lower in a majority of studies on cocaine but not ATS. Future research should include longitudinal designs on larger sample sizes and examine other stages of exposure to psychostimulants.

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