Reduced amygdalar and hippocampal size in adults with generalized social phobia

Reduced amygdalar and hippocampal size in adults with generalized social phobia


J Psychiatry Neurosci 2010;35(2):126-13

Eva Irle, PhD; Mirjana Ruhleder, PhD; Claudia Lange, PhD; Ulrich Seidler-Brandler, PhD; Simone Salzer, MS; Peter Dechent, PhD; Godehard Weniger, MD; Eric Leibing, PhD;* Falk Leichsenring, PhD*

Irle, Ruhleder, Lange — Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy; Seidler-Brandler, Salzer, Leibing — Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy; Dechent — Magnetic Resonance-Research in Neurology and Psychiatry, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany; Weniger — Department of Social and General Psychiatry, University of Zürich, Switzerland; Leichsenring — Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University of Giessen, Giessen, Germany

*Both authors contributed equally to this study.


Background: Structural and functional brain imaging studies suggest abnormalities of the amygdala and hippocampus in posttraumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. However, structural brain imaging studies in social phobia are lacking.

Methods: In total, 24 patients with generalized social phobia (GSP) and 24 healthy controls underwent 3-dimensional structural magnetic resonance imaging of the amygdala and hippocampus and a clinical investigation.

Results: Compared with controls, GSP patients had significantly reduced amygdalar (13%) and hippocampal (8%) size. The reduction in the size of the amygdala was statistically significant for men but not women. Smaller right-sided hippocampal volumes of GSP patients were significantly related to stronger disorder severity.

Limitations: Our sample included only patients with the generalized subtype of social phobia. Because we excluded patients with comorbid depression, our sample may not be representative.

Conclusion: We report for the first time volumetric results in patients with GSP. Future assessment of these patients will clarify whether these changes are reversed after successful treatment and whether they predict treatment response.

Submitted Apr. 4, 2009; Revised Sept. 17, 2009; Accepted Oct. 30, 2009.

Acknowledgments: The authors thank Lena-Sophie Tanneck and Astrid Bohl for assistance in participants’ assessments and Dr. Steffen Luntz (Koordinierungszentrum Klinische Studien, Heidelberg, Federal Republic of Germany) for support in data management and on-site monitoring. This research was supported by grant BMBF 01GV0607 (Ministry of Education and Research, Germany).

Competing interests: None declared.

Contributors: Drs. Irle, Leichsenring and Leibing made substantial contributions to the study conception and design. Drs. Ruhleder, Seidler-Brandler, Salzer and Dechent acquired the data, which Drs. Irle, Ruhleder, Lange and Weniger analyzed. Dr. Irle wrote the first draft of the article. All authors revised and gave final approval of the article to be published.

DOI: 10.1503/jpn.090041

Correspondence to: Dr. E. Irle, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Göttingen, Von-Siebold-Str. 5, D-37075 Göttingen, Federal Republic of Germany; fax 551-3912712;