Orbitofrontal gray matter deficits as marker of Internet gaming disorder: converging evidence from a cross-sectional and prospective longitudinal design

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Abstract

Internet gaming disorder represents a growing health issue. Core symptoms include unsuccessful attempts to control the addictive patterns of behavior and continued use despite negative consequences indicating a loss of regulatory control. Previous studies revealed brain structural deficits in prefrontal regions subserving regulatory control in individuals with excessive Internet use. However, because of the cross-sectional nature of these studies, it remains unknown whether the observed brain structural deficits preceded the onset of excessive Internet use. Against this background, the present study combined a cross-sectional and longitudinal design to determine the consequences of excessive online video gaming. Forty-one subjects with a history of excessive Internet gaming and 78 gaming-naive subjects were enrolled in the present study. To determine effects of Internet gaming on brain structure, gaming-naive subjects were randomly assigned to 6 weeks of daily Internet gaming (training group) or a non-gaming condition (training control group). At study inclusion, excessive Internet gamers demonstrated lower right orbitofrontal gray matter volume compared with Internet gaming-naive subjects. Within the Internet gamers, a lower gray matter volume in this region was associated with higher online video gaming addiction severity. Longitudinal analysis revealed initial evidence that left orbitofrontal gray matter volume decreased during the training period in the training group as well as in the group of excessive gamers. Together, the present findings suggest an important role of the orbitofrontal cortex in the development of Internet addiction with a direct association between excessive engagement in online gaming and structural deficits in this brain region.

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