Structural gray matter differences in Problematic Usage of the Internet: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Mol Psychiatry. 2022 Feb;27(2):1000-1009. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01315-7. Epub 2021 Oct 12.


Problematic Usage of the Internet (PUI) has been linked to diverse structural gray matter changes in individual data studies. However, no quantitative synthesis across studies has been conducted. We aimed to identify gray matter regions showing significant spatial convergence across neuroimaging studies in PUI. We searched PubMed and PsycINFO up to 10/03/2021 and included original, cross-sectional comparative studies that examined structural gray matter imaging in PUI versus control groups; reported a whole-brain analysis; and provided peak coordinates for gray matter differences. From a total of 624 potentially relevant studies, 15 (including 355 individuals with PUI and 363 controls) were included in a meta-analysis of voxel-based morphometry studies. Anatomical likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis was performed using extracted coordinates and identified significant spatial convergence in the medial/superior frontal gyri, the left anterior cingulate cortex/cingulate gyrus, and the left middle frontal/precentral gyri. Datasets contributing to these findings all indicated reduced gray matter in cases compared to controls. In conclusion, voxel-based morphometric studies indicate replicable gray matter reductions in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in PUI, regions implicated in reward processing and top-down inhibitory control. Further studies are required to understand the nature of gray matter differences across PUI behaviors, as well as the contribution of particular mental health disorders, and the influence of variation in study and sample characteristics.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Gray Matter*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*