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Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Anna-Chiara Schaub
Maximilian Meyer
Amos Tschopp
Aline Wagner
Undine E. Lang
Marc Walter
Flora Colledge
, and
André Schmidt



Exercise dependence (ED) is characterised by behavioural and psychological symptoms that resemble those of substance use disorders. However, it remains inconclusive whether ED is accompanied by similar brain alterations as seen in substance use disorders. Therefore, we investigated brain alterations in individuals with ED and inactive control participants.


In this cross-sectional neuroimaging investigation, 29 individuals with ED as assessed with the Exercise Dependence Scale (EDS) and 28 inactive control participants (max one hour exercising per week) underwent structural and functional resting-state magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Group differences were explored using voxel-based morphometry and functional connectivity analyses. Analyses were restricted to the striatum, amygdala, and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Exploratory analyses tested whether relationships between brain structure and function were differently related to EDS subscales among groups.


No structural differences were found between the two groups. However, right IFG and bilateral putamen volumes were differently related to the EDS subscales “time” and “tolerance”, respectively, between the two groups. Resting-state functional connectivity was increased from right IFG to right superior parietal lobule in individuals with ED compared to inactive control participants. Furthermore, functional connectivity of the angular gyrus to the left IFG and bilateral caudate showed divergent relationships to the EDS subscale “tolerance” among groups.


The findings suggest that ED may be accompanied by alterations in cognition-related brain structures, but also functional changes that may drive compulsive habitual behaviour. Further prospective studies are needed to disentangle beneficial and detrimental brain effects of ED.

Open access