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Amygdala hyperreactivity to faces conditioned with a social-evaluative meaning– a multiplex, multigenerational fMRI study on social anxiety endophenotypes

  • Bas-Hoogendam, Janna Marie1, 2, 3
  • van Steenbergen, Henk1, 3
  • van der Wee, Nic J.A.2, 3
  • Westenberg, P. Michiel1, 3
  • 1 Institute of Psychology, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden, The Netherlands
  • 2 3 ZA Leiden, The Netherlands
  • 3 Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden, The Netherlands
Published Article
NeuroImage Clinical
Publication Date
Mar 16, 2020
DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102247
PMID: 32247196
PMCID: PMC7125356
PubMed Central


Social anxiety disorder (SAD) runs in families, but the neurobiological pathways underlying the genetic susceptibility towards SAD are largely unknown. Here, we employed an endophenotype approach, and tested the hypothesis that amygdala hyperreactivity to faces conditioned with a social-evaluative meaning is a candidate SAD endophenotype. We used data from the multiplex, multigenerational Leiden Family Lab study on Social Anxiety Disorder (eight families, n  = 105) and investigated amygdala activation during a social-evaluative conditioning paradigm with high ecological validity in the context of SAD. Three neutral faces were repeatedly presented in combination with socially negative, positive or neutral sentences. We focused on two endophenotype criteria: co-segregation of the candidate endophenotype with the disorder within families, and heritability. Analyses of the fMRI data were restricted to the amygdala as a region of interest, and association analyses revealed that bilateral amygdala hyperreactivity in response to the conditioned faces co-segregated with social anxiety (SA; continuous measure) within the families; we found, however, no relationship between SA and brain activation in response to more specific fMRI contrasts. Furthermore, brain activation in a small subset of voxels within these amygdala clusters was at least moderately heritable. Taken together, these findings show that amygdala engagement in response to conditioned faces with a social-evaluative meaning qualifies as a neurobiological candidate endophenotype of social anxiety. Thereby, these data shed light on the genetic vulnerability to develop SAD.

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