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Impaired orexin activity as a mediator of isolation-induced social anxiety

Principal Investigator:
  • Derya Sargin, University of Calgary
  • Arrell Family Foundation

Project Overview

We live in a world profoundly shaped by social behaviours involving interactions and communications between conspecifics of a given species. All mammals, ranging from primates to rodents, depend on each other to survive and reproduce. For children and young adults, neglect and being deprived of social contact are particularly detrimental. Prolonged isolation during childhood or adolescence interferes with brain development and causes long-term deficits in behaviour, a major one being social anxiety. Isolation is a risk for the outcome of social anxiety disorder (SAD), while being confined to isolation may exacerbate the symptoms of this disorder. A high percentage of people diagnosed with SAD do not benefit from available treatment options. In order to help those in need, it is essential to develop research that can help guide new therapeutic approaches. My lab studies the long-term behavioural deficits resulting from chronic social isolation. We use a mouse model that is deprived of social contact starting at adolescence and that develops social anxiety-like behaviours during young adulthood. We recently made a highly exciting discovery that a specialized group of brain cells (neurons) that are conserved between mice and humans, are critical and essential for social contact with foreign conspecifics. In this project, we aim to identify how deficits in the activity of these neurons contribute to social anxiety that is associated with isolation stress and how we can target this system to improve isolation-induced anxiety-like behaviours. Our ultimate goal is to develop more effective therapeutic approaches for those suffering from social isolation and SAD.