Accelerated Aging Evident in Cocaine-Dependent Individuals

Age-related gray matter volume loss occurs at twice the normal rate

THURSDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- The brains of individuals addicted to cocaine show accelerated loss of gray matter over and above the loss due to normal aging, according to a letter published online April 24 in Molecular Psychiatry.

Karen D. Ersche, Ph.D., from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and colleagues produced whole brain maps of age-related change in gray matter volume using structural magnetic resonance imaging brain scans, which were analyzed using voxel-based morphometry. Participants included 60 adults (aged 18 to 50 years) who met the standard diagnostic criteria for cocaine dependence and 60 age-, gender-, and verbal IQ-matched adults without a history of substance abuse or major psychiatric disorders.

The researchers found that, while all adults had age-related reductions in gray matter cortical and subcortical regions, those dependent on cocaine lost global gray matter volume at about twice the rate of healthy volunteers (3.08 versus 1.69 ml per year). The age-related loss was significantly greater in cocaine-dependent versus healthy individuals (P = 0.031), and this interaction persisted even after exclusion of those with comorbid alcohol dependence (P = 0.013). The accelerated loss of gray matter was greater in the prefrontal and temporal regions, while parts of the striatum appeared resistant to age-related loss.

"Abnormal aging in chronic cocaine users is an emerging public health concern, which has received little attention," Ersche and colleagues write. "As the psychological and physiological challenges of aging may have also accelerated in individuals with long-term drug dependence, the effects of cocaine on the process of aging should be recognized in order to design and administer age-appropriate treatments for older drug users."

The study was funded by GlaxoSmithKline; two authors disclosed financial relationships with several pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline.

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