NEWS arrow Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study

Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study

Written by Unknown


Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is currently becoming a serious mental health issue around the globe. Previous studies regarding IAD were mainly focused on associated psychological examinations. However, there are few studies on brain structure and function about IAD. In this study, we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to investigate white matter integrity in adolescents with IAD.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Seventeen IAD subjects and sixteen healthy controls without IAD participated in this study. Whole brain voxel-wise analysis of fractional anisotropy (FA) was performed by tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) to localize abnormal white matter regions between groups. TBSS demonstrated that IAD had significantly lower FA than controls throughout the brain, including the orbito-frontal white matter, corpus callosum, cingulum, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and corona radiation, internal and external capsules, while exhibiting no areas of higher FA. Volume-of-interest (VOI) analysis was used to detect changes of diffusivity indices in the regions showing FA abnormalities. In most VOIs, FA reductions were caused by an increase in radial diffusivity while no changes in axial diffusivity. Correlation analysis was performed to assess the relationship between FA and behavioral measures within the IAD group. Significantly negative correlations were found between FA values in the left genu of the corpus callosum and the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders, and between FA values in the left external capsule and the Young's Internet addiction scale.


Our findings suggest that IAD demonstrated widespread reductions of FA in major white matter pathways and such abnormal white matter structure may be linked to some behavioral impairments. In addition, white matter integrity may serve as a potential new treatment target and FA may be as a qualified biomarker to understand the underlying neural mechanisms of injury or to assess the effectiveness of specific early interventions in IAD.

Introduction Top

Internet addiction disorder (IAD), also called problematic or pathological Internet use, is characterized by an individual's inability to control his or her use of the Internet, which may eventually result in marked distress and functional impairments of general life such as academic performance, social interaction, occupational interest and behavioral problems [1]. The description regarding IAD is based on the definition for substance dependence or pathological gambling, which shares properties of substance dependence like preoccupation, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, distress and functional impairments [2], [3]. With the soaring number of Internet users, the problem of IAD has currently attracted considerable attention from psychiatrists, educators and the public; therefore IAD is becoming a serious mental health issue around the world [4], [5], [6].

Current studies about IAD have focused on case summaries, behavioral components, negative consequences in daily life, along with clinical diagnosis, epidemiology, associated psychosocial factors, symptom management, psychiatric comorbidity and treatment outcome [7], [8], [9], [10], [11]. These studies are mainly based on psychological self-reported questionnaires and consistently reported that heavy internet overuse may exert potential effects on individuals' psychological problems and cognitive impairments.

To date, only few neuroimaging studies had been performed to investigate brain structural and functional changes associated with IAD. A previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) study reported decreased gray matter density in the left anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, insula and lingual gyrus of IAD adolescents [12]. Yuan and colleagues found that IAD subjects had multiple structural changes in the brain, and such changes correlated significantly with the duration of Internet addiction [13]. One resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study demonstrated that IAD college students has increased regional homogeneity in several brain regions including cerebellum, brainstem, limbic lobe, frontal lobe and apical lobe [14]. Two task-related fMRI studies of individuals with online game addiction indicated that cue-induced activation in response to Internet video game stimuli is similar to that observed during cue presentation in people with substance dependence or pathologic gambling [15], [16]. Dong et al. [17] reported that IAD students had lower activation in the conflict detection stage, and showed less efficiency in information processing and lower impulse control than normal controls by recording event-related brain potentials during a Go/No-Go task. Additionally, a positron emission tomography (PET) study found that Internet game overuse shares psychological and neural mechanisms with other types of impulse control disorders and substance/non-substance-related addiction [18]. Taken together, these findings indicate that IAD subjects are associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving in emotional processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.

We hypothesize that IAD subjects are also associated with impairments of white matter fibers connecting these regions and such changes can be detected by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a non-invasive MRI technique with capable of providing a quantitative measure of white matter damage [19]. DTI is sensitive to water diffusion characteristics and has been developed as a tool for investigating the local properties of brain white matter [20]. Four frequently used quantitative diffusion parameters can be derived from DTI data: 1) fractional anisotropy (FA), reflecting the directionality of water diffusion and coherence of white matter fiber tracts; 2) mean diffusivity (MD), quantifying the overall magnitude of water diffusion; 3) axial diffusivity (Da) measuring the magnitude of diffusivity along the principle diffusion direction; and 4) radial diffusivity (Dr) reflecting th