Brain volumes in alcohol use disorder: Do females and males differ? A whole-brain magnetic resonance imaging mega-analysis

Publication Name

Human Brain Mapping


Emerging evidence suggests distinct neurobiological correlates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) between sexes, which however remain largely unexplored. This work from ENIGMA Addiction Working Group aimed to characterize the sex differences in gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) correlates of AUD using a whole-brain, voxel-based, multi-tissue mega-analytic approach, thereby extending our recent surface-based region of interest findings on a nearly matching sample using a complementary methodological approach. T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 653 people with AUD and 326 controls was analyzed using voxel-based morphometry. The effects of group, sex, group-by-sex, and substance use severity in AUD on brain volumes were assessed using General Linear Models. Individuals with AUD relative to controls had lower GM volume in striatal, thalamic, cerebellar, and widespread cortical clusters. Group-by-sex effects were found in cerebellar GM and WM volumes, which were more affected by AUD in females than males. Smaller group-by-sex effects were also found in frontotemporal WM tracts, which were more affected in AUD females, and in temporo-occipital and midcingulate GM volumes, which were more affected in AUD males. AUD females but not males showed a negative association between monthly drinks and precentral GM volume. Our results suggest that AUD is associated with both shared and distinct widespread effects on GM and WM volumes in females and males. This evidence advances our previous region of interest knowledge, supporting the usefulness of adopting an exploratory perspective and the need to include sex as a relevant moderator variable in AUD.

Open Access Status

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Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Institutes of Health



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