Drugs in development for social anxiety disorder: more to social anxiety than meets the SSRI
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Individuals with social phobia (SP) fear and avoid a wide variety of social and performance situations in which they are exposed to unfamiliar persons or to possible scrutiny by others. The lifetime prevalence of SP is estimated to be as high as 13%. It is frequently co-morbid with and usually precedes the onset of other psychiatric illnesses and is associated with significant occupational and social impairment, including academic and vocational underachievement. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for this common and debilitating condition. There is currently considerable evidence for the efficacy of pharmacotherapy and especially the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the treatment of this disorder. However, SSRIs are generally preferred as the first-line treatment of choice due to the advantages of SSRIs over MAOIs in terms of safety and tolerability. Despite encouraging results, current treatments most often produce partial symptomatic improvement, rather than high end-state functioning. While current first line treatments for social phobia target the serotonergic system, it is important to remember that different social fears are likely to have different developmental roots and may be based on quite different neurobiological systems. In this article we provide a review of current pharmacotherapeutic options for SP, current knowledge of the neurobiology of SP, and a review of new and promising directions in pharmacological research. It is increasingly clear that serotonin (5-HT) is unlikely to be the whole story in SP and that other brain chemical systems, especially the dopaminergic, noradrenaline-corticotropin releasing hormone and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) dependent systems, most probably have an important role to play in a substantial percentage of cases. A number of new and novel agents, including the substance P antagonists, GABA agonists and CRF antagonists show considerable promise in the treatment of SP. However, in order to enhance the understanding of the neurobiology and treatment response of SP, we need to develop more sophisticated theory-driven typologies of SP.
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