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Mental Health Information Centre - Southern Africa

Stellenbosch University is conducting neuroimaging research in social anxiety disorder (SAD)

Brain imaging research in the past has largely been focused on looking at regional differences in activity in the brain. So for example, researchers demonstrated that in the brains of people with SAD, there might be more activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain involved in anxiety) than would be expected in people without the disorder. While this work remains important, such regional differences only represent part of the picture!

Functional connectivity research is a recent method of brain analysis that allows scientists to examine how multiple, widespread connections in the brain result in these regional differences in activity. Groups of these connections form what are known as ‘neural networks’ and several of such networks have so far been detected. There is some evidence that one network in the brain (called the default mode network) may play a role in how social information is processed (social information includes our perceptions and thoughts about other people and how they perceive us).

We are interested in networks in the brains of SAD sufferers and whether they differ from those without the disorder. We want to investigate whether network differences can be linked to how people with SAD process social information. We also want to see the effect of treatment (using an established treatment for SAD – moclobemide) on these networks.

The project has been ongoing since 2015, and is progressing well. We need more participants with SAD however.

All participants undergo two types of brain scan (FDG PET/CT and fMRI) and a series of psychological tests. SAD volunteers then receive an 8-9 week course of moclobemide followed by repeat testing and scanning. Excluding the initial (screening) visit, SAD participants attend 8 study visits over the course of 9 weeks, while healthy volunteers (without SAD) attend 4 study visits over the course of 1-2 weeks. Participants are reimbursed for their food and travel costs.

Eligibility criteria:
• Between the ages of 18 and 55
• Fluent in English (the psychological tests are only available in English)
• Right-handed (left-handed people’s brains are different)
• Not pregnant or breastfeeding
• No dominant psychiatric conditions other than Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD participants)
• No significant psychiatric conditions at all (volunteers without SAD)
• Not currently on any medications for a psychiatric condition, or willing to temporarily interrupt medications to participate in the study.
• A few other medications might interfere with the study: the study doctor will check this provided you meet the other criteria.
• No previous or current medical conditions that directly affect the brain, (including previous head injury with loss of consciousness or brain surgery), no metal implants in the skull, no diabetes (affects the scan)
• Able to lie still in a scanner for up to an hour at a time

If you suspect you have SAD or have been diagnosed with SAD and are interested in taking part in the study; or if you are willing to volunteer as a healthy control (without SAD), please contact any of the following:
• Prof Christine Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za ): Tel: 021 – 938 9179

Mental Health Topics

In partnership with:

University of Stellenbosch
South African Medical Research Council
University of Cape Town