Given the recent pandemic and everyone is trying to make themselves as socially distant as possible. In situations like these, inquisitive minds wonder how all of this sudden self-isolation is affecting the brain.
To make it easy to grasp, we would start by talking about important research led by a scientist called Erin Schuman from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research.
Erin and his team set out to discover how brain molecule i.e. RNA is reacting to the current social distancing.
Brain molecule and its thermometric properties
Upon extensive investigation by using RNA Extraction Kit, it was revealed that the molecule of the brain acts like a thermometer, which is highly vulnerable to the presence of other organisms around the atmosphere of their surroundings. For instance, the scientist revealed that Zebrafish is highly susceptible to the presence of other aquatic organisms and through mechanosensation, they turn on their brain hormones.
Different social conditions can have a long-lasting impact on any animal behaviour, bet it terrestrial or aquatic. Unfortunately, social distancing equates to a catastrophic and it leaves mostly unpleasant marks in human psychology
Although there is a need for a lot more evidence, as far as the current knowledge concerns, any dramatic changes like social distancing can have severe effects on all kinds of organisms.
When zebrafish is forced into a different atmosphere that is devoid of its kin, it reveals major RNA sequencing to calculate the expression of myriads of neuronal genes.
Tracking the social density
While assessing the situation of the isolated fish, scientists found quite a consistency in the changing expression of genes. One of the many hormones that showed some change was parathyroid hormone 2, an important hormone that is responsible for some unknown peptides in the brain.
Interestingly, the pt2 hormone functions differently not only in the presence of other species but also shows significant differences in the density of other beings. What is even more intriguing is that, when the zebrafish were put into self-isolation, their pt2 hormone almost disappeared from their brain. When other fish were added to the tank, the expression levels started to rise quite rapidly increased in the brain of these fish.
Thrilled by the results, the scientist tried different methods to reverse the effects of isolation. As a result, they added the same fish into the tank with an abundance of social interaction.
Barely, 30 minutes were passed, and the brain of zebrafish started to depict a surge of pt2 hormone. After about 12 hours, one could not distinguish between the brain activity of any fish in the tank.
Sensing the water movements
Aquatic organisms, especially fishes are highly susceptible to water movement around them, their immediate sensory organ called the later line to perceive every motion around itself.
To test the essential role played by mechanosensation, the team of researchers head-on and ablated the mechanosensitive cells present inside the later line of the fish.
In the prior experiment, the isolated organisms ablated the lateral line cells and prevented the rescue of this neuro-hormone which was usually induced by the presence of other fish.
Just like how zebrafish are extremely sensitive to water motion, humans also appear tuned to the throng of people moving around them. Just like how scientists could see a significant difference in the pt2 level of zebrafish, human cells also exhibit a wide range of difference in hormonal activity. (Guo, et al. 2021)
Environmental enrichment and human activity
Since environmental enrichment is one of the most powerful stimuli to exist, one can study significant differences in the activity of the human brain when they are out socialising and when they are not.
Similarly, in rodents, Environmental enrichment (EE) is seen as the standard which uses multi-factorial environments. EE is used to imply two major surroundings, complex surroundings and social interaction.
The hippocampal gyrus dentate gyrus is one of the critical regions of the brain that is responsible for memory and other learning tasks. Environmental enrichment affects the hippocampal gyrus dentate gyrus of organisms differently. If we take rodents as an example, we would see that mice that are bred in an isolation are better with their spatial memory as compared to the mice that are raised in socially interactive places.
Grégoire, Catherine Alexandra, Stephanie Tobin, Brianna L. Goldstein, Eric Samarut, Andréanne Leclerc, Anne Aumont, Pierre Drapeau, Stephanie Fulton, and Karl J. L. Fernandes. 2018. “RNA-Sequencing Reveals Unique Transcriptional Signatures of Running and Running-Independent Environmental Enrichment in the Adult Mouse Dentate Gyrus.” Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 1: 11: 126. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5908890/.
Guo, Yu, Shi, Liang, Zhang, and Zeng. 2021. “Performance assessment of sample-specific network control methods for bulk and single-cell biological data analysis.” PLoS Comput Biol, 17(5).