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Valium could help against sociophobia

Lausanne - Low-dose diazepam, also known under the trade name Valium, helps anxious rats do better socially. This has been shown by an animal study by the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Fearful people are often tense in their social environment and find it difficult to assert themselves. As a result, self-confidence suffers and those affected feel overlooked and rejected. Earlier studies have already provided indications that anti-anxiety medications, including the sleeping pill diazepam, could help anxious people in their social environment in low doses. The active ingredient increases the energy production in nerve cells, which is related to motivation and reward. However, so far there has been a lack of scientific evidence.

Motivation and reward

The researchers around Carmen Sandi write in the journal "Molecular Psychiatry" that diazepam helps extremely anxious rats to overcome their disadvantage in the fight for their social status. Even "moderately anxious" rats could therefore hold their own better if they received low-dose diazepam. In the case of animals with few symptoms of anxiety, however, the treatment did not lead to any further increase in their already higher social competitiveness.

The researchers have also deciphered how the diazepam achieves this effect: it increases the communication between two brain areas that are involved in the processing of motivation and reward. This triggers a biochemical chain reaction that increases the energy production in the nerve cells in these areas of the brain.

Using mitochondria to fight social anxiety

The results show that anti-anxiety medication could help overcome disadvantages in the social environment, as the EPFL emphasizes. Even more important, however, is the realization that the cells' energy powerhouses - the so-called mitochondria - are a promising target for treating anxiety-related social dysfunction.

Their function could at best be influenced by a pharmacological approach. The scientists are currently also investigating non-drug options - such as specific behavioral training or nutritional interventions - to influence the same mechanisms in the brain. (APA, sda, July 18, 2017)