White Matter Deficits Assessed by Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Cognitive Dysfunction in Psychostimulant Users With Comorbid Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Graduate student (PhD)
Final version published as: 

Tang VM, Lang DJ, Giesbrecht CJ, Panenka WJ, Willi T, Procyshyn RM, Vila-Rodriguez F, Jenkins W, Lecomte T, Boyda HN, Aleksic A, MacEwan GW, Honer WG, Barr AM. White matter deficits assessed by diffusion tensor imaging and cognitive dysfunction in psychostimulant users with comorbid human immunodeficiency virus infection. BMC Res Notes. 2015 Sep 30;8:515. doi: 10.1186/s13104-015-1501-5.

Date created: 
Diffusion tensor imaging
Human immunodeficiency virus
Magnetic resonance imaging


Psychostimulant drug use is commonly associated with drug-related infection, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Both psychostimulant use and HIV infection are known to damage brain white matter and impair cognition. To date, no study has examined white matter integrity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in chronic psychostimulant users with comorbid HIV infection, and determined the relationship of white matter integrity to cognitive function.


Twenty-one subjects (mean age 37.5 ± 9.0 years) with a history of heavy psychostimulant use and HIV infection (8.7 ± 4.3 years) and 22 matched controls were scanned on a 3T MRI. Fractional anisotropy (FA) values were calculated with DTI software. Four regions of interest were manually segmented, including the genu of the corpus callosum, left and right anterior limbs of the internal capsule, and the anterior commissure. Subjects also completed a neurocognitive battery and questionnaires about physical and mental health.


The psychostimulant using, HIV positive group displayed decreased white matter integrity, with significantly lower FA values for all white matter tracts (p < 0.05). This group also exhibited decreased cognitive performance on tasks that assessed cognitive set-shifting, fine motor speed and verbal memory. FA values for the white matter tracts correlated with cognitive performance on many of the neurocognitive tests.


White matter integrity was thus impaired in subjects with psychostimulant use and comorbid HIV infection, which predicted worsened cognitive performance on a range of tests. Further study on this medical comorbidity is required.

Document type: 
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)