A growing body of research shows that children who suffer severe neglect and social isolation have cognitive and social impairments as adults. A study from Boston Children’s Hospital shows, for the first time, how these functional impairments arise: Social isolation during early life prevents the cells that make up the brain’s white matter from maturing and producing the right amount of myelin, the fatty "insulation" on nerve fibers that helps them transmit long-distance messages within the brain.
The study also identifies a molecular pathway that is involved in these abnormalities, showing it is disrupted by social isolation and suggesting it could potentially be targeted with drugs. Finally, the research indicates that the timing of social deprivation is an important factor in causing impairment. The findings are reported in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Science.
The researchers, led by Gabriel Corfas, PhD, and Manabu Makinodan, MD, PhD, both of the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, modeled social deprivation in mice by putting them in isolation for two weeks.
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