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      Pain tolerance predicts human social network size

      a , 1 , 1

      Scientific Reports

      Nature Publishing Group

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          Abstract

          Personal social network size exhibits considerable variation in the human population and is associated with both physical and mental health status. Much of this inter-individual variation in human sociality remains unexplained from a biological perspective. According to the brain opioid theory of social attachment, binding of the neuropeptide β-endorphin to μ-opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) is a key neurochemical mechanism involved in social bonding, particularly amongst primates. We hypothesise that a positive association exists between activity of the μ-opioid system and the number of social relationships that an individual maintains. Given the powerful analgesic properties of β-endorphin, we tested this hypothesis using pain tolerance as an assay for activation of the endogenous μ-opioid system. We show that a simple measure of pain tolerance correlates with social network size in humans. Our results are in line with previous studies suggesting that μ-opioid receptor signalling has been elaborated beyond its basic function of pain modulation to play an important role in managing our social encounters. The neuroplasticity of the μ-opioid system is of future research interest, especially with respect to psychiatric disorders associated with symptoms of social withdrawal and anhedonia, both of which are strongly modulated by endogenous opioids.

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          Most cited references 35

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          Oxytocin, vasopressin, and the neurogenetics of sociality.

           Z Donaldson,  L Young (2008)
          There is growing evidence that the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin modulate complex social behavior and social cognition. These ancient neuropeptides display a marked conservation in gene structure and expression, yet diversity in the genetic regulation of their receptors seems to underlie natural variation in social behavior, both between and within species. Human studies are beginning to explore the roles of these neuropeptides in social cognition and behavior and suggest that variation in the genes encoding their receptors may contribute to variation in human social behavior by altering brain function. Understanding the neurobiology and neurogenetics of social cognition and behavior has important implications, both clinically and for society.
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            The relationship between social support and physiological processes: a review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health.

            In this review, the authors examine the evidence linking social support to physiological processes and characterize the potential mechanisms responsible for these covariations. A review of 81 studies revealed that social support was reliably related to beneficial effects on aspects of the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. An analysis of potential mechanisms underlying these associations revealed that (a) potential health-related behaviors do not appear to be responsible for these associations; (b) stress-buffering effects operate in some studies; (c) familial sources of support may be important; and (d) emotional support appears to be at least 1 important dimension of social support. Recommendations and directions for future research include the importance of conceptualizing social support as a multidimensional construct, examination of potential mechanisms across levels of analyses, and attention to the physiological process of interest.
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              • Article: not found

              Regional mu opioid receptor regulation of sensory and affective dimensions of pain.

              The endogenous opioid system is involved in stress responses, in the regulation of the experience of pain, and in the action of analgesic opiate drugs. We examined the function of the opioid system and mu-opioid receptors in the brains of healthy human subjects undergoing sustained pain. Sustained pain induced the regional release of endogenous opioids interacting with mu-opioid receptors in a number of cortical and subcortical brain regions. The activation of the mu-opioid receptor system was associated with reductions in the sensory and affective ratings of the pain experience, with distinct neuroanatomical involvements. These data demonstrate the central role of the mu-opioid receptors and their endogenous ligands in the regulation of sensory and affective components of the pain experience.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Sci Rep
                Sci Rep
                Scientific Reports
                Nature Publishing Group
                2045-2322
                28 April 2016
                2016
                : 6
                Affiliations
                [1 ]University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, South Parks Road , Oxford, OX1 3UD, UK
                Author notes
                Article
                srep25267
                10.1038/srep25267
                4848525
                27121297
                Copyright © 2016, Macmillan Publishers Limited

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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