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Acta Neuropathol. 2015 Apr;129(4):493-509. doi: 10.1007/s00401-014-1377-9. Epub 2014 Dec 24.

One is the deadliest number: the detrimental effects of social isolation on cerebrovascular diseases and cognition.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Ave., Farmington, CT, 06030, USA, FRIEDLER@UCHC.EDU.


The deleterious effects of chronic social isolation (SI) have been recognized for several decades. Isolation is a major source of psychosocial stress and is associated with an increased prevalence of vascular and neurological diseases. In addition, isolation exacerbates morbidity and mortality following acute injuries such as stroke or myocardial infarction. In contrast, affiliative social interactions can improve organismal function and health. The molecular mechanisms underlying these effects are unknown. Recently, results from large epidemiological trials and pre-clinical studies have revealed several potential mediators of the detrimental effects of isolation. At least three major biological systems have been implicated: the neuroendocrine (HPA) axis, the immune system, and the autonomic nervous system. This review summarizes studies examining the relationship between isolation and mortality and the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying SI. Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and neurological diseases including atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke and Alzheimer's disease are given special emphasis in the context of SI. Sex differences are highlighted and studies are separated into clinical and basic science for clarity.

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