Whether we feel lonely or engage in certain social activities may be influenced by variation in specific genomic regions reports a paper published in Nature Communications this week.
John Perry and colleagues analysed genetic variation in 487,647 UK Biobank participants who had provided questionnaire responses about their perceived loneliness, the frequency of interactions with others and the quality of these interactions (i.e. whether they have someone to confide in). The authors used a multi-trait genome-wide association study approach to better understand how the genetic make-up of an individual could determine their susceptibility to loneliness. Variation at 15 genomic loci was found to be associated with social isolation in this group of people. Further analyses looked into participation in specific activities such as going to the pub, being in a religious groups or part of a sports club/gym, which revealed fine-grained genetic differences, but also similarities for choosing a particular activity.
The authors additionally report that genetic variation that may influence loneliness can also have an effect on psychiatric and psychological traits such as neuroticism or subjective well-being and on physical traits like body mass index, suggesting a genetic link between social isolation, mental health and cardiometabolic health.
The authors note that the findings are based on self-reporting and association analyses and further studies are required to confirm any causal role the genetic variants identified may play in these processes.