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Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Mar;30 Suppl:S135-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.05.003. Epub 2012 May 17.

Early impact of social isolation and breast tumor progression in mice.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY 14627, USA.


Evidence from cancer patients and animal models of cancer indicates that exposure to psychosocial stress can promote tumor growth and metastasis, but the pathways underlying stress-induced cancer pathogenesis are not fully understood. Social isolation has been shown to promote tumor progression. We examined the impact of social isolation on breast cancer pathogenesis in adult female severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice using the human breast cancer cell line, MDA-MB-231, a high β-adrenergic receptor (AR) expressing line. When group-adapted mice were transferred into single housing (social isolation) one week prior to MB-231 tumor cell injection into a mammary fat pad (orthotopic), no alterations in tumor growth or metastasis were detected compared to group-housed mice. When social isolation was delayed until tumors were palpable, tumor growth was transiently increased in singly-housed mice. To determine if sympathetic nervous system activation was associated with increased tumor growth, spleen and tumor norepinephrine (NE) was measured after social isolation, in conjunction with tumor-promoting macrophage populations. Three days after transfer to single housing, spleen weight was transiently increased in tumor-bearing and non-tumor-bearing mice in conjunction with reduced splenic NE concentration and elevated CD11b+Gr-1+ macrophages. At day 10 after social isolation, no changes in spleen CD11b+ populations or NE were detected in singly-housed mice. In the tumors, social isolation increased CD11b+Gr-1+, CD11b+Gr-1-, and F4/80+ macrophage populations, with no change in tumor NE. The results indicate that a psychological stressor, social isolation, elicits dynamic but transient effects on macrophage populations that may facilitate tumor growth. The transiency of the changes in peripheral NE suggest that homeostatic mechanisms may mitigate the impact of social isolation over time. Studies are underway to define the neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying the tumor-promoting effects of social isolation, and to determine the contributions of increased tumor macrophages to tumor pathogenesis.

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