Expression and co-expression of serotonin and dopamine transporters in social anxiety disorder: a multitracer positron emission tomography study

Abstract

Serotonin and dopamine are putatively involved in the etiology and treatment of anxiety disorders, but positron emission tomography (PET) studies probing the two neurotransmitters in the same individuals are lacking. The aim of this multitracer PET study was to evaluate the regional expression and co-expression of the transporter proteins for serotonin (SERT) and dopamine (DAT) in patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Voxel-wise binding potentials (BPND) for SERT and DAT were determined in 27 patients with SAD and 43 age- and sex-matched healthy controls, using the radioligands [11C]DASB (3-amino-4-(2-dimethylaminomethylphenylsulfanyl)-benzonitrile) and [11C]PE2I (N-(3-iodopro-2E-enyl)-2beta-carbomethoxy-3beta-(4′-methylphenyl)nortropane). Results showed that, within transmitter systems, SAD patients exhibited higher SERT binding in the nucleus accumbens while DAT availability in the amygdala, hippocampus, and putamen correlated positively with symptom severity. At a more lenient statistical threshold, SERT and DAT BPND were also higher in other striatal and limbic regions in patients, and correlated with symptom severity, whereas no brain region showed higher binding in healthy controls. Moreover, SERT/DAT co-expression was significantly higher in SAD patients in the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, caudate, putamen, and posterior ventral thalamus, while lower co-expression was noted in the dorsomedial thalamus. Follow-up logistic regression analysis confirmed that SAD diagnosis was significantly predicted by the statistical interaction between SERT and DAT availability, in the amygdala, putamen, and dorsomedial thalamus. Thus, SAD was associated with mainly increased expression and co-expression of the transporters for serotonin and dopamine in fear and reward-related brain regions. Resultant monoamine dysregulation may underlie SAD symptomatology and constitute a target for treatment.

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Fig. 1: Altered expression of serotonin and dopamine transporters in social anxiety disorder.
Fig. 2: Altered co-expression of serotonin and dopamine transporters in social anxiety disorder.

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Acknowledgements

Supported by the Swedish Research Council and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond—the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (TF). AF is supported by The Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation. We thank Jörgen Rosén, Fredrik Åhs, Johannes Björkstrand, Thomas Ågren, Hanna Wallberg, Henrik Annerstedt, Nimo Farah, Jonas Engman, Per Carlbring, Gerhard Andersson, Margareta Reis, and Elna-Marie Larsson for their assistance.

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Hjorth, O.R., Frick, A., Gingnell, M. et al. Expression and co-expression of serotonin and dopamine transporters in social anxiety disorder: a multitracer positron emission tomography study. Mol Psychiatry (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-019-0618-7

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