Imaging Anxiety : Neurochemistry in Anxiety Disorders Assessed by Positron Emission Tomography

Abstract: Anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder (SAD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common and disabling conditions. Largely based on animal and pharmacological studies, both the serotonergic and substance P/neurokinin-1 (SP/NK1) systems have been implicated in their underlying pathology. However, only few neuroimaging studies have directly assessed these neurotransmitter systems in human sufferers of anxiety disorders, and none have addressed possible between-systems relationships.The overall aim of this thesis was to study possible neurochemical alterations associated with anxiety disorders. To this end, three studies using positron emission tomography (PET) for in-vivo imaging of the brain serotonergic and SP/NK1 systems in patients with SAD and PTSD were conducted. The radiotracers [11C]5-HTP, [11C]DASB, and [11C]GR205171 were used to index serotonin synthesis rate, serotonin transporter (SERT) availability, and NK1 receptor availability respectively.In Study I, patients with SAD relative to controls exhibited enhanced serotonin synthesis rate and serotonin transporter availability. Serotonin synthesis rate in the amygdala was positively related to social anxiety symptom scores. Study II demonstrated increased NK1 receptor availability in the amygdala in patients with SAD relative to controls. In Study III, patients with PTSD showed elevated NK1 receptor availability in the amygdala as compared to controls. SERT availability in the amygdala was negatively related to PTSD symptom severity, a relationship that was moderated by NK1 receptor levels. The regional overlap between SERT and NK1 receptor expression was altered in patients with PTSD, with reduced overlap linked to more severe symptoms.Collectively, the findings are consistent with the view that serotonin in the amygdala induces rather than reduces anxiety and links exaggerated anxiety to an overactive presynaptic serotonin system. In addition, the involvement of the SP/NK1 system in stress and anxiety, as suggested by animal studies, was demonstrated in two common human anxiety disorders. Finally, PTSD symptomatology is better accounted for by interactions between the serotonergic and SP/NK1 systems in the amygdala than by each system separately. In conclusion, this thesis supports that both the serotonergic and SP/NK1 systems in and of themselves, but also interactively, may be important contributors to anxiety symptomatology.