Study examines the measurable effects of isolation


Long periods of isolation can affect the part of the brain responsible for complex emotional and cognitive behavior.

New research reveals that brain plasticity and adaptability respond to environmental changes.


Myelin reacts to environmental changes like isolation

“This research reveals for the first time a role for myelin in adult psychiatric disorders,” said Karen Dietz, PhD, research scientist in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “It demonstrates that plasticity in the brain is not restricted to neurons, but actively occurs in glial cells, such as the oligodendrocytes, which produce myelin.”

Changes in myelin have been seen in psychiatric disorders, and demyelinating disorders have also had an association with depression.

Nerve function lost with unhealthy myelin

Myelin wraps the axons of neurons and allows them to signal each other effectively. Normal nerve function is lost when myelin is dysfunctional.

Diseases like MS and Krabbe’s disease are demyelinating disorders. Researchers have now discovered that environmental or social situations can also cause demyelination.

“This research provides the first explanation of the mechanism behind how this brain plasticity occurs,” Dietz continued. “Showing how this change in the level of social interaction of the adult animal resulted in changes in oligodendrocytes.”

Emotional and cognitive behavior affected

Brain tissue analysis on isolated mice showed significantly lower than normal levels of gene transcription for oligodendrocytes cells in the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is responsible for emotional and cognitive behavior.

Sources: MedicalNewsToday, University at Buffalo

Photo by John Nyboer


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