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People with social phobia have too much serotonin

A new study reverses the long-held belief that social phobia patients had too little serotonin in their brains.

By Stephen Feller
People with social phobia have too much serotonin
Social phobia patients have too much serotonin in their brains, not too little, a new study shows. Photo by PathDoc/Shutterstock

UPPSALA, Sweden, June 19 (UPI) -- The brains of people with social phobias and social anxiety disorders are receiving too much serotonin, according to a new study, reversing the previous assumption that they were receiving too little of the neurotransmitter.

The new findings explain that a rush of serotonin contributes to the higher nerve activity in the amygdalas of people with anxiety disorders and helps to understand how drugs used to treat them work in the brain.

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"Not only did individuals with social phobia make more serotonin than people without such a disorder, they also pump back more serotonin," Andreas Frick, a doctoral student at Uppsala University's Department of Psychology, said in a press release. "We were able to show this in another group of patients using a different tracer which itself measures the pump mechanism. We believe that this is an attempt to compensate for the excess serotonin active in transmitting signals."

Researchers used a PET camera and special tracer to measure serotonin in the brains of 18 men and women, finding that the more serotonin was produced, the more anxious participants were in social situations.

It was believed that SSRI compounds, which change the amount of serotonin in the brain and are used to treat social phobias, increased the amount of serotonin in the brain because not enough of it was present. The new findings, however, show the opposite of studies that fueled the previous theory on the neurotransmitter.

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The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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