“There is still a great deal to be done in terms of researching the genetic causes of this illness. Until now, only a few candidate genes have been known that could be linked to this.”
Together with the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Bonn, Dr. Forstner is conducting a study into the genetic causes of social phobia. The research team investigated the DNA of a total of 321 patients and compared it with 804 control individuals.
The focus of the scientists lay on what are known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).
“There are variable positions in the DNA that can exist to various degrees in different people,” explains Dr. Forstner.
The cause of genetic illnesses often lies in the SNPs. It is estimated that more than thirteen million such changes exist in the human DNA.
The scientists investigated a total of 24 SNPs that are suspected in the widest sense of being the cause of social phobias and other mental disorders. This is the largest association study so far into social phobia, according to associate professor Johannes Schumacher.
Over the course of the study, scientists at the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Bonn will ask the patients about their symptoms and the severity of their social phobia. Their DNA is also examined using a blood sample.
Whether there is a link between the signs of the illness and the genes is being investigated by the scientists using statistical methods.
The evaluation of the previously collected data indicated that an SNP in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 is involved in the development of social phobia.
This gene encodes a mechanism in the brain that is involved in transporting the important messenger serotonin. This substance suppresses, among other things, feelings of fear and depressive moods.
“The result substantiates indications from previous studies that serotonin plays an important role in social phobia,”
says associate professor Dr. Rupert Conrad from the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy. Medications that block serotonin reuptake and increase the concentration of the messenger in the tissue fluid in the brain have already long been used to treat anxiety disorders and depression.
The scientists now want to investigate more closely what the links are between the DNA and social phobia. Information about the study, for those who wish to participate, is available at http://www.SocialPhobiaResearch.de.