Gene expression difference in lonely versus socially integrated people

Psychoneuroimmunology is a field you may not have heard of before, but if you break it down it’s pretty clear what the field studies: psych is for psychological, neuro for neuroendocrine (read: hormones), and  immunology for immune system. So it’s a field that studies how the mind effects the body. And specifically, how stress effects the immune system. There are many ways to study stress. I’ll have to blog about that another day. But I promise we believe we have very well validated was to assess all different kinds of stress. One way it to compare two groups of people – one group that has a specific type of stressor in their life, and one that doesn’t have that stressor – and see how they differ. An article in Genome Biology (Cole, 2007) explored the different genetic profile on socially isolated versus socially integrated people. They wanted to explore whether very lonely people over-express genes in the immune system. This would be bad because over activation of the immune system can propel chronic inflammation which is linked to many diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Through DNA microarray analysis, they found 209 gneges that were expressed differently in immune cells in lonely versus not-lonely people. Genes that help propel inflammation were over-expressed in the lonely people.  The authors conclude that “social isolation might potentially influence basic gene-regulatory processes involved in cell growth and differentiation.”  These results suggest that having friends may actually impact your genes and be beneficial for your immune system. How cool!