Abnormalities of striatal morphology in gambling disorder and at-risk gambling.
OBJECTIVE: The clinical phenotype of gambling disorder (GD) is suggestive of changes in brain regions involved in reward and impulse suppression, notably the striatum. Studies have yet to characterize striatal morphology (shape) in GD and whether this may be a vulnerability marker. AIMS: To characterize the morphology of the striatum in those with disordered gambling (at-risk gambling and GD) versus controls. METHOD: Individuals aged 18-29 years were classified a priori into those with some degree of GD symptoms (at-risk gambling and GD) or controls. Exclusion criteria were a current mental disorder (apart from GD), history of brain injury, or taking psychoactive medication within 6 weeks of enrollment. History of any substance use disorder was exclusionary. Participants completed an impulsivity questionnaire and structural brain scan. Group differences in volumes and morphology were characterized in subcortical regions of interest, focusing on the striatum. RESULTS: Thirty-two people with GD symptoms (14 at-risk and 18 GD participants) and 22 controls completed the study. GD symptoms were significantly associated with higher impulsivity and morphological alterations in the bilateral pallidum and left putamen. Localized contraction in the right pallidum strongly correlated with trait impulsivity in those with GD symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: Morphologic abnormalities of the striatum appear to exist early in the disease trajectory from subsyndromal gambling to GD and thus constitute candidate biological vulnerability markers, which may reflect differences in brain development associated with trait impulsivity. Striatal morphology and associated impulsivity might predispose to a range of problematic repetitive behaviors.