Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loneliness alters the immune system to cause illness, study finds

A new study conducted by John T. Cacioppo, the professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues from the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of California-Daivs has discovered the new underlying mechanisms of loneliness that alter immune system cells in a way that can increase a person's susceptibility to illness. Their study is based off of previous research from psychologists from Bringham Young University and Professor Cacioppo from the University of Chicago which show that extreme loneliness can lead to premature death by triggering chronic illness.

The team previously discovered that people who are lonely have greater inflammation and a weaker immune response than those who are not. This suggested that loneliness was associated with a mechanism called "conserved transcriptional response to adversity" or CTRA, which is process that involves an increased gene expression that plays a role in inflammation and a decreased in expression of genes involved in antiviral response. In order to investigate this further the team looked at gene expression in leukocytes, which are white blood cells in the immune system that help prevent infection. By looking at 141 adults of ages 50-68 they confirmed that those individuals who were lonely demonstrated greater CTRA gene expression in their white blood cells. However, they also discovered that loneliness and leukocyte gene expression work together in mechanism to compound each other, as loneliness was found to predict CTRA gene expression a year in advanced, while CTRA gene expression predicted loneliness a year in advanced.

The researchers furthers researched the topic by analyzing gene expression in leukocytes of rhesus macaque monkeys. In their research they found lonely monkeys demonstrated greater CTRA gene expression in their white blood cells, but also had higher levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is involved in the bodies "fight-or-flight" response to stress. This increased levels of norepinephrine also increased the production of immature monocytes, which are a type of white blood cell found in bone marrow, in the lonely monkey's and human's blood. The disruption of the "fight-or-fight response" and increased production of immature monocytes caused lower antiviral responses and increased inflammation, which impaired the production of white blood cells, which possibly explains why lonely individuals are at greater risk of chronic illness.

In the end, this article shows that loneliness can affect gene expression in our white blood cells and affect our immune system. This article shows a correlation between our feelings and their effect on our genes. I find this amazing. The fact that our feeling and outside environment can affect our current gene expression and the expression of gene in our white blood cells is fascinating.

For a link to the original article click here 
For a link for another article about this topic click here


  1. This is a very interesting article. It is often said the power of positivity can make a huge difference in life, and this article supports this. The fact that the way we are feeling has now been shown to affect the way our body responds to viruses, is amazing. It is truly exceptional that loneliness, a feeling, can affect gene expression. This data urges the creation of programs, such as pet programs and social interaction, for older people, who often suffer from this, will no longer feel lonely because it could severely affect their health.

  2. This article is fascinating, but depressing in the same sense. I have heard of people dying from a broken heart and I think this article shows that it is not so crazy as it sounds. There have been many recordings throughout time where a significant other will die and the husband/wife would not be so far behind them. It is also as if their white blood cells have given up the will to live the same way the person is so lonely that they might also not want to live.