Background: Little is known about structural brain abnormalities associated with methamphetamine (METH) abuse; therefore, we aimed: 1) to evaluate possible morphometric changes, especially in the striatum of recently abstinent METH-dependent subjects; 2) to evaluate whether morphometric changes are related to cognitive performance; and 3) to determine whether there are sex-by-METH interactions on morphometry.
Methods: Structural MRI was performed in 50 METH and 50 comparison subjects with the same age range and sex proportion; quantitative morphometric analyses were performed in the subcortical gray matter, cerebellum and corpus callosum. Neuropsychological tests were also performed in 44 METH and 28 comparison subjects.
Results: METH users showed enlarged putamen (left: + 10.3%, p = .0007; right: + 9.6%, p = .001) and globus pallidus (left: + 9.3%, p = .002; right: + 6.6%, p = .01). Female METH subjects additionally showed larger mid-posterior corpus callosum (+ 9.7%, p = .05). Although METH users had normal cognitive function, those with smaller striatal structures had poorer cognitive performance and greater cumulative METH usage.
Conclusions: Since METH subjects with larger striatal structures had relatively normal cognitive performance and lesser cumulative METH usage, the enlarged putamen and globus pallidus might represent a compensatory response to maintain function. Possible mechanisms for the striatal enlargement include glial activation and inflammatory changes associated with METH-induced injury.