Lower regional grey matter in alcohol use disorders: evidence from a voxel-based meta-analysis


Previous research using whole-brain neuroimaging techniques has revealed structural differences of grey matter (GM) in alcohol use disorder (AUD) patients. However, some of the findings diverge from other neuroimaging studies and require further replication. The quantity of relevant research has, thus far, been limited and the association between GM and abstinence duration of AUD patients has not yet been systematically reviewed.


The present research conducted a meta-analysis of voxel-based GM studies in AUD patients published before Jan 2021. The study utilised a whole brain-based d-mapping approach to explore GM changes in AUD patients, and further analysed the relationship between GM deficits, abstinence duration and individual differences.


The current research included 23 studies with a sample size of 846 AUD patients and 878 controls. The d-mapping approach identified lower GM in brain regions including the right cingulate gyrus, right insula and left middle frontal gyrus in AUD patients compared to controls. Meta-regression analyses found increasing GM atrophy in the right insula associated with the longer mean abstinence duration of the samples in the studies in our analysis. GM atrophy was also found positively correlated with the mean age of the samples in the right insula, and positively correlated with male ratio in the left middle frontal gyrus.


GM atrophy was found in the cingulate gyrus and insula in AUD patients. These findings align with published meta-analyses, suggesting they are potential deficits for AUD patients. Abstinence duration, age and gender also affect GM atrophy in AUD patients. This research provides some evidence of the underlying neuroanatomical nature of AUD.

Li, L., Yu, H., Liu, Y. et al. Lower regional grey matter in alcohol use disorders: evidence from a voxel-based meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry 21, 247 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-021-03244-9
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