The balance between dopamine and serotonin affects social phobia

The balance between dopamine and serotonin affects social phobia

The balance between neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain affects whether a person develops social phobia. Previously, research has mainly focused on the serotonin or dopamine systems individually.

Social phobia is anxiety that is linked to meeting other people and feeling lost or scrutinized. The disease has previously been called social phobia, but today the term social anxiety is used.

Social anxiety can lower your quality of life and make you feel isolated. You often develop safety behaviors that make the anxiety grow even stronger and take over further. Social anxiety is considered a mental illness and causes symptoms that can have a significant impact on the quality of life. Symptoms of social anxiety. The feeling of doing away with or otherwise attracting negative attention is central. Situations where one feels scrutinized can be extremely stressful. It is not the same as feeling some slight nervousness and discomfort when meeting new people or giving a presentation. 

Researchers at Uppsala University can now show that there is a connection between the signal substances.

– We see that there is a different balance between serotonin and dopamine transport in people with social phobia compared to control subjects. The interaction between serotonin and dopamine transport explained more of the difference between the groups than each carrier is individual.

– This implies that one should not stare blindly at one signal substance at a time, but that the balance between different systems may be more important, says Olof Hjorth, a Ph.D. student at the Department of Psychology.

Anxiety in a social context

People with social phobia suffer from anxiety in social contexts, which can cause significant problems in relationships, friendships, and working life. This study shows that those affected may have an imbalance between the serotonin and dopamine transporters in the amygdala and other brain areas that are important for fear, motivation, and social behavior. The function of the brain’s signaling agents is affected by the amount of re-transport to the transmitter cell, which is controlled by specific transporter proteins.

– Although there are signs that dopamine may be important in anxiety, the substance is not so well researched, probably because the psychoactive drugs we have are largely focused on changing the serotonin system. 

In this study, we can show for the first time that the re-transport of dopamine has a connection with how much difficulty people with social phobia experience, says Olof Hjorth.

A possibly even more important finding is that people with social phobia when compared to diagnosis-free persons show imbalances between the serotonin and dopamine transporters in the amygdala and other brain areas that are important for fear, motivation and social behavior.

The density of transport proteins

The technology used is a so-called PET (positron emission tomography) where radioactive molecules decompose and send signals that allow researchers to determine the density of carrier proteins in different parts of the brain. This is the first PET study to look at serotonin and dopamine transport at the same time and where the radioligands used have a very high affinity for these particular transport molecules.

The findings can hopefully lead to a better understanding of the causes of social anxiety and eventually lead to new, more effective treatments.

“We see that many of our patients have symptoms that negatively affect much of their everyday lives, and many have suffered from their symptoms most of their lives, so it is important to understand the onset and find effective treatments,” says Olof Hjorth.

Scientific article:

Expression and co-expression of serotonin and dopamine transporters in social anxiety disorder: a multitracer positron emission tomography study. Molecular Psychiatry. Hjorth, OR, Frick, A., Gingnell, M. et al.

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