White matter impairment in chronic heroin dependence: a quantitative DTI study

Brain Res. 2013 Sep 19;1531:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2013.07.036. Epub 2013 Jul 27.


Exposure to addictive drugs has been associated with disrupted brain white matter integrity. A few studies have examined the white matter deficits in heroin users; however, the results were influenced by the use of substitution drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine. The present study assessed the alteration in white matter integrity and heroin-related neuropathology in heroin dependents who had not received any replacement therapy using quantitative diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The study comprised 17 heroin-dependent (HD) subjects and 15 matched healthy controls (HC). Fractional anisotropy (FA) and eigenvalues (λ┴, λ||) of white matter in the whole brain were measured and compared using a voxel-based analysis. The correlation between DTI measurements in identified regions and history of heroin exposure was tested by partial correlation analysis. Compared with HCs, HD subjects displayed decreased FA in the bilateral frontal lobe sub-gyrus, cingulate gyrus, medial frontal gyrus, extra-nuclear, left temporal lobe sub-gyrus and right superior frontal gyrus. Among these regions, the HD group had significantly increased λ┴ in the bilateral frontal lobe sub-gyrus, cingulate gyrus and extra-nuclear relative to the HC group. There were no group differences in λ||. In addition, there were no significant correlations between duration of heroin use or accumulated dosage and FA or λ┴ values. In conclusion, chronic heroin-dependent subjects had widespread disruption of white matter structural connectivity located mainly in anterior and superior regions of the brain. Damage to myelin other than axons was the primary pathological feature in the brain of the heroin user.

Keywords: DTI; Diffusion tensor imaging; EPI; Eigenvalues; FA; Fractional anisotropy; HC; HD; Heroin dependence; MMT; MRI; SPM; Statistical Parametric Mapping; White matter; axial diffusivity; diffusion tensor imaging; echo planar imaging; fractional anisotropy; healthy controls; heroin-dependent; magnetic resonance imaging; methadone maintenance treatment; radial diffusivity; λ(||); λ(┴).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / standards
  • Female
  • Heroin Dependence / metabolism*
  • Heroin Dependence / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / metabolism*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*