Changes of Neurotransmitters in Youth with Internet and Smartphone Addiction: A Comparison with Healthy Controls and Changes after Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2020 Jul;41(7):1293-1301. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A6632. Epub 2020 Jul 2.

Abstract

Background and purpose: Neurotransmitter changes in youth addicted to the Internet and smartphone were compared with normal controls and in subjects after cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition, the correlations between neurotransmitters and affective factors were investigated.

Materials and methods: Nineteen young people with Internet and smartphone addiction and 19 sex- and age-matched healthy controls (male/female ratio, 9:10; mean age, 15.47 ± 3.06 years) were included. Twelve teenagers with Internet and smartphone addiction (male/female ratio, 8:4; mean age, 14.99 ± 1.95 years) participated in 9 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy. Meshcher-Garwood point-resolved spectroscopy was used to measure γ-aminobutyric acid and Glx levels in the anterior cingulate cortex. The γ-aminobutyric acid and Glx levels in the addicted group were compared with those in controls and after cognitive behavioral therapy. The γ-aminobutyric acid and Glx levels correlated with clinical scales of Internet and smartphone addiction, impulsiveness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and sleep quality.

Results: Brain parenchymal and gray matter volume-adjusted γ-aminobutyric acid-to-creatine ratios were higher in subjects with Internet and smartphone addiction (P = .028 and .016). After therapy, brain parenchymal- and gray matter volume-adjusted γ-aminobutyric acid-to-creatine ratios were decreased (P = .034 and .026). The Glx level was not statistically significant in subjects with Internet and smartphone addiction compared with controls and posttherapy status. Brain parenchymal- and gray matter volume-adjusted γ-aminobutyric acid-to-creatine ratios correlated with clinical scales of Internet and smartphone addictions, depression, and anxiety. Glx/Cr was negatively correlated with insomnia and sleep quality scales.

Conclusions: The high γ-aminobutyric acid levels and disrupted balance of γ-aminobutyric acid-to-Glx including glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to understanding the pathophysiology and treatment of Internet and smartphone addiction and associated comorbidities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Behavior, Addictive* / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive* / psychology
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Smartphone*
  • Young Adult
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism

Substances

  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid