1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy in social anxiety disorder

Fleur M. Howells, Coenraad J. Hattingh, Supriya Syal, Elsie Breet, Dan J. Stein, Christine Lochner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by excessive anxiety about social interaction or performance situations, leading to avoidance and clinically significant distress. A growing literature on the neurobiology of SAD has suggested that the reward/avoidance basal ganglia circuitry in general and the glutamatergic system in particular may play a role. In the current study, we investigated 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) concentrations in cortical, striatal, and thalamic circuitry, as well as their associations with measures of social anxiety and related symptoms, in patients with primary SAD. Methodology: Eighteen adult individuals with SAD and 19 age- and sex- matched controls participated in this study. 1H-MRS was used to determine relative metabolite concentrations in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) using single voxel spectroscopy (reporting relative N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), N-acetyl-aspartate with N-acetyl-aspartyl-glutamate (NAA+NAAG), glycerophosphocholine with phosphocholine (GPC+PCh), myo-inositol, glutamate (Glu), and glutamate with its precursor glutamine (Glu+Gln)), and the caudate, putamen and thalami bilaterally using two dimensional chemical shift imaging (reporting relative NAA+NAAG and GPC+PCh). Relationships between metabolite concentrations and measures of social anxiety and related symptoms were also determined. Measures of social anxiety included symptom severity, blushing propensity, and gaze anxiety/avoidance. Results: We found, first, decreased relative glutamate concentration in the ACC of SAD and changes in myo-inositol with measures of social anxiety. Second, NAA metabolite concentration was increased in thalamus of SAD, and choline metabolite concentrations were related to measures of social anxiety. Lastly, choline metabolite concentration in the caudate and putamen showed changes in relation to measures of social anxiety. Conclusion: These findings are consistent with evidence that the reward/avoidance basal ganglia circuitry, as well as the glutamatergic system, play a role in mediating SAD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)
  • Glutamate
  • N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA)
  • Striatum
  • Thalamus


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