Evaluation of cortical thickness and white matter alterations in adolescent cannabis users with 3.0 T magnetic resonance imaging

Giada Zoccatelli

G. Zoccatelli1, F. Alessandrini1, G. Serpelloni2, G. Cuoghi3, E. Bellamoli3, C. Rimondo4, A. Beltramello1. 1Unit of Neuroradiology, Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Integrata, Verona, Italy; 2Department of Antidrug Policies, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Rome, Italy; 3Unit of Neuroscience, Addiction Department, Verona, Italy; 4National Early Warning System, Department of Antidrug Policies, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Rome, Italy

Background: Cortical atrophy and alterations of interhemispheric white matter fiber connections has been suggested as a neural substrate of cognitive impairment in executive functions, language, and general cognitive functioning in addiction. We assessed teen cannabis users with multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neuropsychological assessment to evaluate brain structural and microstructural abnormalities after drug consumption in comparison with a control group.

Methods: MRI scans were performed with a high-field MR scanner, utilizing the cortical thickness analysis (CTA) and diffusion tensor imaging techniques (DTI). For the CTA, 3D-T1 weighted images of six adolescent cannabis users (mean=16 years) were compared with six healthy subjects. For the DTI, tract-based spatial statistics were used to investigate differences in white matter tract diffusion properties between groups of patients and healthy controls.

Results: Eighteen subjects (nine cannabis users, nine controls) were scanned. We obtained cortical thickness maps of group differences and observed a reduction of the cortical thickness in temporo-mesial areas and anterior cingulate cortex in cannabis users. TBSS analysis in clusters of voxels, differing in the value of fractional anisotropy (FA) for healthy controls and patients, showed differences in FA in several regions, more prominently a reduction in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, frontal and temporal areas, and subcortical nuclei.

Conclusions: This research focuses on the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction, connecting structural, microstructural, and neuropsychological data, and showing structural and microstructural abnormalities in young cannabis users with new insights for the planning of preventive and therapeutic strategies.

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Basic Science