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Sexually dimorphic responses to social isolation

While male and female mice have similar responses to physical stress, recent work from our lab suggests females are more sensitive to social stresses such as isolation. These findings, published in eLife https://elifesciences.org/content/5/e18726), provide further proof that strategies for coping with stress are sex-specific. They also highlight the importance of a social network for females in particular and pave the way for future research into whether females befriend others as a coping mechanism during stressful situations. Many species, including humans, use social interaction to reduce the effects of stress. In fact, the lack of a social network may itself be stressful. Recent research suggests that young girls are more sensitive to social stress than boys. This could mean that social networks are more important for females in general, and that young females from different species, such as mice, may be more sensitive towards social isolation than males. By showing that males and females react differently to some types of stress but not others, our study highlights the importance of considering carefully the sex of animals when investigating how stress affects the brain. Our findings also raise the interesting question of whether social and environmental changes during the crucial preadolescent stage of development could have long-term consequences for how males and females respond to stressful events later in life.