Objective: The authors examined the separate and combined effects of methamphetamine dependence and HIV infection on brain morphology.
Method: Morphometric measures obtained from magnetic resonance imaging of methamphetamine-dependent and/or HIV-positive participants and their appropriate age- and education-matched comparison groups were analyzed. Main effects of age, HIV infection, methamphetamine dependence, and the interactions of these factors were examined in analyses of cerebral gray matter structure volumes.
Results: Independent of the effect of age, HIV infection was associated with reduced volumes of cortical, limbic, and striatal structures. There was also some evidence of an interaction between age and HIV infection such that older HIV-positive participants suffered disproportionate loss. Methamphetamine dependence was surprisingly associated with basal ganglia and parietal cortex volume increases, and in one of these structures-the nucleus accumbens-there appeared to be a larger effect in younger methamphetamine abusers. Neurocognitive impairment was associated with decreased cortical volumes in HIV-positive participants but with increased cortical volumes in methamphetamine-dependent participants.
Conclusions: These results suggest significant brain structure alterations associated with both HIV infection and methamphetamine dependence. The regional patterns of the changes associated with these factors were distinct but overlapping, and the effects on brain volumes were opposing. Although the results of the present study provide little information about the specific mechanisms leading to the unexpected methamphetamine effects, they may be related to glial activation or neuritic growth, both of which have been associated with methamphetamine exposure in animal studies. These results have implications for the interpretation of brain morphological findings in methamphetamine-dependent, HIV-positive individuals, a group whose numbers are unfortunately increasing.