This article is part of a Special Issue “Neuroendocrine-Immune Axis in Health and Disease.”
The regulation and function of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis and glucocorticoids have been well conserved across vertebrate species. Glucocorticoids influence a wide range of physiological functions that include glucose regulation, metabolism, inflammatory control, as well as cardiovascular, reproductive, and neuronal effects. Some of these are relatively quick-acting non-genomic effects, but most are slower-acting genomic effects. Thus, any stimulus that affects HPA function has the potential to exert wide-ranging short-term and long-term effects on much of vertebrate physiology. Here, we review the effects of social isolation on the functioning of the HPA axis in social species, and on glucocorticoid physiology in social mammals in particular. Evidence indicates that objective and perceived social isolation alter HPA regulation, although the nature and direction of the HPA response differs among species and across age. The inconsistencies in the direction and nature of HPA effects have implications for drawing cross-species conclusions about the effects of social isolation, and are particularly problematic for understanding HPA-related physiological processes in humans. The animal and human data are incommensurate because, for example, animal studies of objective isolation have typically not been modeled on, or for comparability with, the subjective experience of isolation in humans. An animal model of human isolation must be taken more seriously if we want to advance our understanding of the mechanisms for the effects of objective and perceived isolation in humans.
Hawkley, L. C., Cole, S. W., Capitanio, J. P., Norman, G. J., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2012). Effects of social isolation on glucocorticoid regulation in social mammals. Hormones and behavior, 62(3), 314-323.