Loneliness affects immune genes

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Oct. 1, 2007

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Genes that control inflammation and immune-system function are compromised in people who are lonely, according to a study published last month in Genome Biology.

"The biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes," said Steven Cole, PhD, lead author and professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Studies have long linked loneliness to an increased risk of mortality. This one is the first to suggest that this phenomenon may be the result of the interaction of a person's social situation with their genetics.

Dr. Cole, in collaboration with University of Chicago researchers, used DNA microarrays to assess the activity of genes in the white blood cells of 14 participants of the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Numerous inflammatory genes were more active, and several associated with making antibodies were less vigorous in those who were not very connected to other people.

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