Gender-related neuroanatomical differences in alcohol dependence: findings from the ENIGMA Addiction Working Group

Publication Name

NeuroImage: Clinical


Gender-related differences in the susceptibility, progression and clinical outcomes of alcohol dependence are well-known. However, the neurobiological substrates underlying such differences remain unclear. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate gender differences in the neuroanatomy (i.e. regional brain volumes) of alcohol dependence. We examined the volume of a priori regions of interest (i.e., orbitofrontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, caudate, putamen, pallidum, thalamus, corpus callosum, cerebellum) and global brain measures (i.e., total grey matter (GM), total white matter (WM) and cerebrospinal fluid). Volumes were compared between 660 people with alcohol dependence (228 women) and 326 controls (99 women) recruited from the ENIGMA Addiction Working Group, accounting for intracranial volume, age and education years. Compared to controls, individuals with alcohol dependence on average had (3–9%) smaller volumes of the hippocampus (bilateral), putamen (left), pallidum (left), thalamus (right), corpus callosum, total GM and WM, and cerebellar GM (bilateral), the latter more prominently in women (right). Alcohol-dependent men showed smaller amygdala volume than control men, but this effect was unclear among women. In people with alcohol dependence, more monthly standard drinks predicted smaller amygdala and larger cerebellum GM volumes. The neuroanatomical differences associated with alcohol dependence emerged as gross and widespread, while those associated with a specific gender may be confined to selected brain regions. These findings warrant future neuroscience research to account for gender differences in alcohol dependence to further understand the neurobiological effects of alcohol dependence.

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Funding Sponsor

National Institute on Drug Abuse



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