Loneliness, eudaimonia, and the human conserved transcriptional response to adversity

Background: Chronic social adversity activates a conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA) marked by increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes and decreased expression of anti-viraland antibody-related genes. Recent findings suggest that some psychological resilience factors may help buffer CTRA activation, but the relative impact of resilience and adversity factors remains poorly understood. Here we examined the relative strength of CTRA association for the two best-established psychological correlates of CTRA gene expression the risk factor of perceived social isolation (loneliness) and the resilience factor of eudaimonic well-being (purpose and meaning in life). Methods: Peripheral blood samples and validated measures of loneliness and eudaimonic well-being were analyzed in 108 community-dwelling older adults participating in the longitudinal US Health and Retirement Study (56% female, mean age 73). Mixed effect linear model analyses quantified the strength of association between CTRA gene expression and measures of loneliness and eudaimonic well-being in separate and joint analyses. Results: As in previous studies, separate analyses found CTRA gene expression to be up-regulated in association with loneliness and down-regulated in association with eudaimonic well-being. In joint analyses, effects of loneliness were completely abrogated whereas eudaimonic well-being continued to associate with CTRA down-regulation. Similar eudaimonia-dominant effects were observed for positive and negative affect, optimism and pessimism, and anxiety symptoms. All results were independent of demographic and behavioral health risk factors. Conclusions: Eudaimonic well-being may have the potential to compensate for the adverse impact of loneliness on CTRA gene expression. Findings suggest a novel approach to targeting the health risks associated with social isolation by promoting purpose and meaning in life. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.