U of L study focuses on link between social interaction and brain health


Metz called BDNF a “fountain of youth” because it is the most abundant neurotrophic factor in the nervous system.

“BDNF actually leads to better learning, better mental health, brain development, and healthy aging — it’s really beneficial all round,” Metz said. “It affects brain function throughout our lives and even improves neuron survival and neuron regeneration in the brain.”

Metz noted that they studied oxytocin levels in the brain because it’s the bonding hormone that reduces stress. She added that understanding how oxytocin works is critical, especially in pregnant women.

“It’s especially important now because we’ve realized the critical role of social support, loneliness and mental health during the pandemic amid increased levels of stress and anxiety, especially among pregnant mothers,” Metz said.

“The stress we experience now has potentially transgenerational consequences and can be passed on to offspring three or four generations later. We want to understand what we can do to lessen the effects of that stress and to do that we need to understand how stress affects the brain.

Oxytocin is a peptide hormone long known “for inducing birth contractions and other physiological functions, [and] is involved in attachment, trust, and reducing anxiety, facilitating the stability of affective relationships and therefore loyalty and love,” according to the April 2020 study Oxytocin and the role of “emotion regulator”: Definition, neurobiochemical and clinical context, practical applications and contraindications, published on the Depression and Anxiety Archives log.

In studies by Dr. Jamshid Faraji and Dr. Garlinde Metz, Faraji blocked the effects of oxytocin, leading to a severe reduction in BDNF expression and stopping the beneficial effects of oxytocin on the brain. Without interactions with oxytocin, BDNF expression was severely reduced.

“I think it really helps us understand these biological mechanisms because it gives us something to work with, variables that we can measure,” Metz said. “We can then see how the treatments or interventions are working and make the necessary adjustments to better help people.”

Metz also said that with the right stimulus, the study found the brain can heal over time. The study Regional Differences in BDNF Expression and Behavior by Gender and Enrichment Type: Oxytocin Matters was published on January 20, 2022 in Oxford Academic.

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