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Approved research

The effects of social isolation on brain structure and function: relationship with depression

Principal Investigator: Mr Zhenhong He
Approved Research ID: 49435
Approval date: August 30th 2019

Lay summary

Aims: We will investigate how our brains (are affected by social isolation and loneliness. We will also investigate whether the effects of social isolation and loneliness on the structure and function of the brain are different in individuals who experience depression. Scientific rationale: Depression is the world's leading cause of disability and nearly one in five people will be affected during their lifetime. Social isolation and loneliness have frequently been related to depression, although the detailed mechanisms of this relationship are not fully understood. Recent scientific evidence indicates that parts of the brain, together known as the 'emotion salience network' and other parts known as the 'emotion regulation network', are involved in our responses to isolation and loneliness. These parts of brain may respond differently in people who experience depression. However, studies so far have been quite small and the results are not always consistent. The UK biobank provides an exciting opportunity to investigate the relationship between social isolation and loneliness, depression and brain changes in a very large number of people. Project duration: The proposed project will take approximately 18 months to complete, during which we will perform a number of analyses to understand the complex inter-relationships between social isolation, loneliness and depression as well as the underlying neuroanatomy. Public health impact: This project will help us understand important aspects of depression, a condition that affects a huge number of people in the UK and worldwide and is a major public health concern. There is an increased understanding of the importance of mental health problems and the challenges they present to individuals and society. Mental health problems, including depression, are extremely complex with interactions between social and biological factors. This study will help us understand the brain basis of social factors important in depression. Understanding these relationships is important for developing improved treatments for people with depression as well as developing ways to help protect individuals from the negative effects of social exclusion and loneliness.