Caught In The Web? Blame Your Genes

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The phenomenon of internet addiction may not yet be clearly defined as nicotine or alcohol dependency, but it is real. Recent studies from Asia provided the first evidence of molecular basis for internet addiction. Now, researchers from the University of Bonn and the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim have gone one step ahead and nailed down the gene responsible for internet addiction.

According to the researchers, CHRNA4, the gene that plays a major role in nicotine addiction, has a role in internet addiction too. The finding was arrived at after interviewing a total of 843 people about their internet habits and analyzing their DNA samples.

About 132 men and women in the study group were found to be problematic internet users, in the sense that all their thoughts revolve around the internet during the day, and they feel their wellbeing is severely impacted if they have to go without it.

A comparison of the genetic makeup of the problematic internet users with that of healthy control individuals revealed that there was a mutation on CHRNA4 gene in problematic internet users, changing the genetic makeup for the Alpha 4 subunit on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. What is already known about nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is that it mediates nicotine reward, dependence and addiction.

The study also found that within the group of subjects exhibiting problematic internet behavior, mutation on the CHRNA4 gene occurred more frequently in women than men. But this sex-specific genetic finding is contrary to the general belief that men are more prone to internet addiction than women, and therefore will have to be validated further, say the researchers.

The study results are reported in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

Christian Montag, psychologist at the Bonn University, says, "With the mutation, a biological marker had been found that would allow to characterize online addiction from a neuro-scientific angle. If such connections are better understood, this will also result in important indications for better therapies".

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