Heart rate variability as candidate endophenotype of social anxiety: A two-generation family study

A. Harrewijn*, M. J.W. Van der Molen, B. Verkuil, S. W. Sweijen, J. J. Houwing-Duistermaat, P. M. Westenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the extreme fear and avoidance of one or more social situations. The goal of the current study was to investigate whether heart rate variability (HRV) during resting state and a social performance task (SPT) is a candidate endophenotype of SAD. Methods: In this two-generation family study, patients with SAD with their partner and children, and their siblings with partner and children took part in a SPT (total n = 121, 9 families, 3–30 persons per family, age range: 8–61 years, 17 patients with SAD). In this task, participants had to watch and evaluate the speech of a female peer, and had to give a similar speech. HRV was measured during two resting state phases, and during anticipation, speech and recovery phases of the SPT. We tested two criteria for endophenotypes: co-segregation with SAD within families and heritability. Results: HRV did not co-segregate with SAD within families. Root mean square of successive differences during the first resting phase and recovery, and high frequency power during all phases of the task were heritable. Limitations: It should be noted that few participants were diagnosed with SAD. Results during the speech should be interpreted with caution, because the duration was short and there was a lot of movement. Conclusions: HRV during resting state and the SPT is a possible endophenotype, but not of SAD. As other studies have shown that HRV is related to different internalizing disorders, HRV might reflect a transdiagnostic genetic vulnerability for internalizing disorders. Future research should investigate which factors influence the development of psychopathology in persons with decreased HRV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-55
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Research Profile Area: Health, Prevention, and the Human Life Cycle of Leiden University. The funding source had no involvement in the study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, writing of the report, and in the decision to submit the article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier B.V.


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