Juvenile Social Isolation Results in Compromised Mental Health, Affects Behavior in Adulthood

Juvenile social isolation can result in affected mental health and behavioral problems later in life, reveals a new study in mice conducted at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and published in the Nature Neuroscience on Monday. A team of researchers have determined that the effected region includes a specific group of cells located in part of the brain called prefrontal cortex, an integral brain part, responsible for conduct of social behavior required for normal everyday interaction in adulthood.

Solitude and isolation are posing a serious threat, specially to the children, who have become addicting to the digital platforms. This subsequently leads to the feeling of loneliness and isolation among youngsters and children. To make it worse, the global COVID-19 pandemic, has now forced to perform the physical distancing. However, this physical distancing is resulting into social distancing even within the same household. It clearly depicts the need to elucidate the mental health in consequence to the social isolation and loneliness. The CDC recommends kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, As the physical inactivity is resulting in health problems in children including obesity and associated complications of youth diabetes and heart problems.

Source: CDC
Source: CDC
Source: CDC

The study speculated that childhood social isolation result in reduced sociability and connectivity later in life. However, the exact underlying mechanism affecting this particular brain circuit is not clearly understood. Researchers studies the hypothesis in a mice model. They found that, in mice, after two weeks of social isolation resulted in immediately compromised social behaviour and fatigue. Subsequently, the mice exhibited inability or failure to activate the cell located in the medial prefrontal cortex neurons.

It shows the shutting down of the circuit of neuron cells situated in that brain region, resulting in inactivity of the posterior paraventricular thalamus, which is required for social behaviour. It was found that the dead neuron circuit failed to transmit the neuron signals to the posterior paraventricular thalamus during the social exposure in adulthood. The transmission of neuron cells from the medial prefrontal cortex to the posterior paraventricular thalamus (mPFC→pPVT) is integral for an individual to show social connectivity. It was proved by blocking or suppressing the (mPFC→pPVT activity in adulthood, resulting in inducing sociability deficits without causing harm to the anxiety-related behaviors.

Therefore, the study states that the “Juvenile isolation led to both reduced excitability of mPFC→pPVT neurons and increased inhibitory input drive from low-threshold-spiking somatostatin interneurons in adulthood, suggesting a circuit mechanism underlying sociability deficits. Chemogenetic or optogenetic stimulation of mPFC→pPVT neurons in adulthood could rescue the sociability deficits caused by juvenile isolation.”

The research team asserted that the sub-group of brain cells in the prefrontal cortex are considerably susceptible to develop feeling of loneliness and isolation in mice model.  It was also maintained in the study that this part of the brain also interconnects with the other parts of the brain, relaying signals to performs numerous functions in daily life. Therefore, it is speculated that effected sub-population cells situated in this part of brain not just cause juvenile isolation, but it may affect the quality of life. Therefore, if these research findings shall be retested in humans, it may help in finding better treatment interventions for psychiatric disorders, particularly that are linked to isolation.

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