TB Drug Offers Hope For Fearful
March 7, 2006

DALLAS (SMU) — An old drug has found a new use in successfully improving psychotherapy for people who suffer from social phobia, the third most common psychiatric disorder, according to a new study published in this month’s Archives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University, Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University conducted the latest human trial of D-cycloserine, which has been used for decades as a compound in antibiotics to treat tuberculosis. The same drug also was found to be effective in another pilot study in 2004 with people who suffer from paralyzing fear of heights.

One in seven people suffer from anxiety disorder, characterized by an intense fear of social settings and public speaking. Current psychotherapy treatments still leave up to 75 percent of sufferers with recurring symptoms, said Jasper Smits, SMU assistant professor of psychology. “Neither drugs nor cognitive therapy alone is 100 percent effective in treating social anxiety,” said Smits. “Current research therefore focuses on strategies that can help more people respond to treatment.”

Fear is a conditioned response. Psychologists use exposure therapy, in which patients confront their worst fears over and over again in order to alter the brain’s response to these situations. D-cycloserine appears to facilitate this type of learning. In the pilot study of 27 people, researchers provided everybody with exposure therapy, but some received D-cycloserine while the others took a placebo. Those receiving D-cycloserine in combination with psychotherapy showed significantly greater reductions in social anxiety symptoms.