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Med Hypotheses. 2015 Dec;85(6):947-52. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2015.09.004. Epub 2015 Sep 5.

Why may allopregnanolone help alleviate loneliness?

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, The Biological Science Division, The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, United States. Electronic address: scacioppo@bsd.uchicago.edu.
2
The Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, United States.

Abstract

Impaired biosynthesis of Allopregnanolone (ALLO), a brain endogenous neurosteroid, has been associated with numerous behavioral dysfunctions, which range from anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors to aggressive behavior and changes in responses to contextual fear conditioning in rodent models of emotional dysfunction. Recent animal research also demonstrates a critical role of ALLO in social isolation. Although there are likely aspects of perceived social isolation that are uniquely human, there is also continuity across species. Both human and animal research show that perceived social isolation (which can be defined behaviorally in animals and humans) has detrimental effects on physical health, such as increased hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) activity, decreased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression, and increased depressive behavior. The similarities between animal and human research suggest that perceived social isolation (loneliness) may also be associated with a reduction in the synthesis of ALLO, potentially by reducing BDNF regulation and increasing HPA activity through the hippocampus, amygdala, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), especially during social threat processing. Accordingly, exogenous administration of ALLO (or ALLO precursor, such as pregnenolone), in humans may help alleviate loneliness. Congruent with our hypothesis, exogenous administration of ALLO (or ALLO precursors) in humans has been shown to improve various stress-related disorders that show similarities between animals and humans i.e., post-traumatic stress disorders, traumatic brain injuries. Because a growing body of evidence demonstrates the benefits of ALLO in socially isolated animals, we believe our ALLO hypothesis can be applied to loneliness in humans, as well.

PMID:
26365247
PMCID:
PMC4648702
DOI:
10.1016/j.mehy.2015.09.004
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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