A genetic origin to social anxiety disorders?

A gene involved in transporting serotonin (a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being) may play a major role in triggering social anxiety disorder, according to a study to be published this month in the journal Psychiatric Genetics .

The manifestations of social anxiety are particularly disabling on a daily basis. An individual suffering from social anxiety dreads the judgment and gaze of others, feels real anxiety when interacting directly or indirectly with other people. A deep panic can follow as well as various particularly alarming symptoms such as moral and physical fatigue, chronic anxiety, tachycardia or depressive episodes.

These disorders are still poorly understood and like many mental health disorders, researchers do not know if genetics plays a role or how the environment can trigger certain symptoms, which makes the disease particularly difficult to diagnose and treat. According to a recent study, however, it seems that a gene involved in the transport of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that contributes to the feeling of well-being) plays a major role in triggering these symptoms.

To gain a better insight into the specific genes linked to the condition, the researchers analyzed the genomes of 321 patients with SAD (social anxiety disorder) and those of 804 healthy controls, focusing in particular on SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism or polymorphism of a single nucleotide), kinds of singular changes similar to faults of hit which represent 90% of all human genetic variations.

There are approximately 3 billion base pairs (or building blocks) in a human genome and approximately 10 million SNPs in each human being. The task is not simple, but the latest advances made in genome sequencing now make it possible to study these SNPs directly. They then found that a gene called SLC6A4 involved in serotonin transport correlated with patients with SAD.

Serotonin is a well-known neurotransmitter that regulates many functions, including mood, appetite, and sleep. It is also known to suppress feelings of fear and depressed mood. Serotonin was already suspected to play an important role in social phobia and this analysis corroborates the conclusions of previous studies made on the same subject.

Researchers now hope to continue research so they can diagnose patients earlier. In particular, they are looking for people with SAD to continue genetic research.  » To achieve this goal, we need many more study participants who suffer from social anxiety. says Stefanie Rambau from the University Hospital Bonn.

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