June 14, 2024

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Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia

Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia


Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia.


In the seventeenth century, the English poet John Donne once wrote that no one is an island and can be self-sufficient . It is true that people have both natural and social attributes. Everyone is like a gear in human society. We depend on each other to build a harmonious and great world together.


The famous neurologist Bruce McEwen once wrote that stress is the most important public health problem of our time . If people are stimulated by stress for a long time, it will cause damage and accelerate the occurrence of diseases. The increase in life pressure also reduces or even isolates people’s daily communication.


Once upon a time, the communication between neighbors and neighborhoods could not have been normal, but now in a crowded city, it is difficult to find a confidant and friend to talk to. Not only that, long-term loneliness can also cause serious adverse effects on our physical and mental health.


In August 2021, Nobel Prize winner and Professor Michael Young of Rockefeller University published in Nature the title: Chronic social isolation signals starvation and reduces sleep in Drosophila (For fruit flies, long-term social isolation means hunger and reduced sleep) Research papers.


This study uses fruit flies as a model to study the impact of the social environment on individual health. The research team found that fruit flies that have been isolated from society for a long time exhibit irregular sleep and eating patterns-overeating and insomnia, which reveals the impact of long-term lack of social contact on health.


Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia


Professor Michael Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the molecular mechanism that controls the circadian rhythm.


Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia


A good and harmonious social life is an important basis for people to maintain physical and mental health, and social isolation can often lead to the occurrence of diseases. Recently, a survey published by the American Psychological Association showed that during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 60% of American adults gained or lost weight, and mental health problems including sleep interruptions also increased.


At the same time, with the increase in social distancing, the incidence of sexual harassment and racial tension has also increased. Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic has sounded the alarm for us. The epidemic often obstructs people’s daily communication, which requires us Find a new strategy to ensure the health of society.


It is worth noting that previous studies have shown that fruit flies, as social animals, respond to the social environment. Social experience and the composition of social groups affect the susceptibility of fruit flies to diseases and many of their behaviors, including mating, eating and sleeping. So, what happens when fruit flies live alone?


The research team established Drosophila melanogaster as a model for studying social isolation. The researchers divided fruit flies into three groups: the first group lived in a normal group; the second group was isolated from the group for a short period of time (1-3 days) ; and the third group was isolated from the group for a long time (5-7 days) .


Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomniaResearchers divide fruit flies into three groups: group living group, short-term isolation group and long-term isolation group


The research team found that compared with group living or short -term isolation of fruit flies, the sleep patterns of long-term isolated fruit flies were disturbed, and the food intake was twice that of the first two .


Further studies have shown that these differences in behavior are accompanied by changes in the expression of 214 genes, which are all detected from the head of Drosophila, including many genes related to the biological pathways of sleep.


Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia

Drosophila in the long-term isolation group showed abnormal feeding behavior and sleeping patterns


The research team focused on two of these genes: one encodes the protein statin, which is a hormone that is upregulated in response to hunger in the brain; Decrease in response.


Interestingly, the research team found that the expression patterns of these genes under social isolation conditions are very similar to those of hungry flies, despite the adequate food supply. This means that social isolation in fruit flies can lead to the same consequences as hunger.

At the same time, this observation also confirms a previous study on humans: social isolation can cause food cravings in the midbrain, which is similar to the response caused by hunger.


The expression patterns of some genes have changed in Drosophila under long-term isolation


Not only that, the research team also found a cluster of P2 neurons expressing limostatin in the central complex of the Drosophila brain, and showed that they contribute to the social isolation effect of Drosophila.

Previously, P2 neurons were characterized by expressing a peptide called NPF, which is homologous to a peptide called NPY in mammals, and NPY is related to eating and social behavior.


When the researchers silenced the P2 neurons, the social isolation effect of Drosophila disappeared, indicating that the neural circuits related to the P2 neurons modulated these effects.

Even more convincing is that in short-term isolated flies, artificial activation of P2 neurons can also cause these flies to eat more and sleep less. This is very similar to the behavior of fruit flies that have been isolated for a long time.


This result indicates that P2 neurons may be able to sense the duration of isolation, and as the isolation time increases, neurons that regulate sleep and eating are constantly updated. In other words, P2 neurons may function as a social isolation timer.


Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia

P2 neurons are necessary for long-term social isolation to cause flies to eat and sleep abnormally


Although far apart, humans do share a common evolutionary ancestor with fruit flies. As an important model organism, Drosophila has helped us understand the underlying mechanisms of human development, learning, and disease.

Today, this research may promote a deeper understanding of human mental illness and may provide new information for the treatment of loneliness and even addiction.


Back to reality, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely hindered people’s interactions and created more lonely people invisibly. But with the popularization of the Internet and smart devices, spatial distance no longer becomes an absolute factor restricting human daily communication.

Open your heart to communicate with family, friends and even strangers, and you will find that your world is not an isolated island, but a vast world!



Paper link:

Nature: Loneliness can lead to overeating and further cause insomnia

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