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Amphetamine Dependence and Co-Morbid Alcohol Abuse: Associations to Brain Cortical Thickness

Glenn Lawyer12*, Petr S Bjerkan1, Anders Hammarberg3, Nitya Jayaram-Lindström3, Johan Franck3 and Ingrid Agartz134

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

2 Department of Computational Biology, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Saarbrücken, Germany

3 Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

4 Department of Psychiatric Research, Diakonhjemmet Hospital, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Pharmacology 2010, 10:5  doi:10.1186/1471-2210-10-5

Published: 20 May 2010



Long-term amphetamine and methamphetamine dependence has been linked to cerebral blood perfusion, metabolic, and white matter abnormalities. Several studies have linked methamphetamine abuse to cortical grey matter reduction, though with divergent findings. Few publications investigate unmethylated amphetamine's potential effects on cortical grey matter. This work investigated if amphetamine dependent patients showed reduced cortical grey matter thickness. Subjects were 40 amphetamine dependent subjects and 40 healthy controls. While all subjects were recruited to be free of alcohol dependence, structured clinical interviews revealed significant patterns of alcohol use in the patients. Structural magnetic resonance brain images were obtained from the subjects using a 1.5 Tesla GE Signa machine. Brain cortical thickness was measured with submillimeter precision at multiple finely spaced cortical locations using semi-automated post-processing (FreeSurfer). Contrast analysis of a general linear model was used to test for differences between the two groups at each cortical location. In addition to contrasting patients with controls, a number of analyses sought to identify possible confounding effects from alcohol.


No significant cortical thickness differences were observed between the full patient group and controls, nor between non-drinking patients and controls. Patients with a history of co-morbid heavy alcohol use (n = 29) showed reductions in the superior-frontal right hemisphere and pre-central left hemisphere when compared to healthy controls (n = 40).


Amphetamine usage was associated with reduced cortical thickness only in patients co-morbid for heavy alcohol use. Since cortical thickness is but one measure of brain structure and does not capture brain function, further studies of brain structure and function in amphetamine dependence are warranted.