We’re getting closer to figuring this out.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be a debilitating condition, but like many mental health disorders, researchers aren’t sure where the genetic basis of the condition lies, or how the environment plays a role in triggering the symptoms – and that makes it particularly difficult to diagnose and treat.
But new research has provided more evidence that a gene involved with the transport of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of wellbeing – could increase the risk of the disorder.
“Until now, only a few candidate genes have been known that could be linked to this.”
SAD is a condition where a person feels an immense amount of fear in certain social situations. It can impair their ability to function, sometimes causing panic attacks and isolation from others.
To get a better insight into specific genes linked to the condition, researchers analysed the genome of 321 patients with SAD against 804 healthy controls.
The team was looking for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – singular changes, similar to typos, found in DNA base pairs, which are the basic building blocks of DNA.
The researchers found that an SNP of a gene called SLC6A4, which is a serotonin transport gene, was correlated with SAD patients.
“This is the largest association study so far into social phobia,” says one of the researchers, Johannes Schumacher.
“The result substantiates indications from previous studies that serotonin plays an important role in social phobia,” says team leader, Rupert Conrad from the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy.
The researchers are hoping that by continuing this research, they can figure out ways to diagnose patients earlier, and provide better support for SAD patients.
They’re also looking for people with SAD for further genetic research.
“In order to achieve this goal, we need many more study participants who suffer from social anxiety,” says one of the team, Stefanie Rambau from the University Hospital Bonn.
“Those who take part will help to research social phobia. This is the basis of better diagnosis and treatment procedures in the future.”