Recent evidence indicates that psychological stress may affect the onset or progression of several common human diseases at least in part by up-regulating acute or chronic inﬂammatory processes.
Among various stressors, it appears that social stress is a particularly strong trigger of inﬂammation, but the neurocognitive pathways that underlie this effect remain unknown. Prior research has shown that an acute episode of social rejection is linked to activation of specific brain regions such as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the anterior insula. In this recent study, George Slavich and colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles demonstrate that a social stressor involving social-evaluative threat and rejection elicits signiﬁcant increases in inﬂammatory activity, as indexed by both soluble receptor for tumor necrosis factor-alpha (sTNFalphaRII) and interleukin (IL)-6. This research group reports that greater activity in the dACC and bilateral anterior insula was associated with greater sTNFaRII responses, whereas greater activity in the right anterior insula was marginally related to increases in IL-6. According to the authors this indicates that neural responses to social rejection are associated with potentiated inﬂammatory responses to an episode of acute social stress. This is consistent with previous studies showing that greater social rejection-induced dACC activity during an fMRI session is associated with greater self-reported distress during daily social interactions.
The authors discuss that brain regions involved in processing social rejection-related information are most likely associated with a variety of biological responses to social and physical threat. Thus, these brain regions may have important implications for health and/or the individual’s susceptibility to inﬂammatory diseases.
SOURCE: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2010, 107:14817. Epub 2010 Aug 2