Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a disabling psychiatric disorder with a complex pathogenesis. Studies indicate a genetic component in the development of SAD, but the search for genetic mechanisms underlying this vulnerability is complicated. A focus on endophenotypes instead of the disorder itself may provide a fruitful path forward. Endophenotypes are measurable characteristics related to complex psychiatric disorders and reflective of genetically-based disease mechanisms, and could shed light on the ways by which genes contribute to the development of SAD. We review evidence for candidate MRI endophenotypes of SAD and discuss the extent to which they meet the criteria for an endophenotype, focussing on the amygdala, the medial prefrontal cortex, whole-brain functional connectivity and structural-anatomical changes. Strongest evidence is present for the primary endophenotype criterion of association between the candidate endophenotypes and SAD, while the other criteria, involving trait-stability, heritability and co-segregation of the endophenotype with the disorder within families, warrant further investigation. We highlight the potential of neuroimaging endophenotypes and stress the need for family studies into SAD endophenotypes.
Keywords: Amygdala; Connectivity; Endophenotypes; Genetic vulnerability; Medial prefrontal cortex; Neuroimaging; Social anxiety disorder; Uncinate fasciculus.
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