Individuals who use methamphetamines (meth) are at risk for significantly enhanced colonization of the lungs by Cryptococcus neoformans and accelerated progression of the disease and the time to death, according to the results of a murine study.

In humans, C. neoformans is the most common cause of fungal meningitis in patients with AIDS. C. neoformans initially infects the lungs but often crosses the blood-brain barrier to infect the central nervous system and cause meningitis.

In the research experiments, meth usage significantly accelerated the speed with which the infected mice died. Nine days after infection, 100% of meth-treated mice were dead, compared to 50% of the control mice.

But the fungus doesn’t stop in the lungs. The brains of meth-treated mice had higher numbers of C. neoformans cells, greater quantities of the fungus’ polysaccharide, and larger lesions than control mice, indicating that meth has a detrimental effect on the blood-brain barrier, permitting the pathogen to cross more easily from the bloodstream to infect the central nervous system.

“Meth-induced alterations to the molecules responsible to maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier provide an explanation for the susceptibility of meth abusers to brain infection by HIV and other pathogens,” according to the authors.

They believe the findings may translate into new knowledge and development of therapeutic and public health strategies to deal with the devastating complications of meth abuse.