The size and burden of mental illness should ideally prompt a strategy of preemption and early intervention. On the neuroscientific side, this leads to the question of brain mechanisms of risk and resilience for these common and disabling disorder. The social environment plays an especially important role in risk, but the impact on the brain is just coming into focus. In this presentation, we review emerging evidence that combines epidemiology, social psychology and neuroscience to identify neural mechanisms of social risk factors for mental illness. In doing so, we discuss existing evidence on the effects of common genetic risk factors in social neural pathways and outline the need for integrative approaches to identify the converging mechanisms of social environmental and genetic risk in brain. On the environmental side, we focus on exposures that have a presumed social component such as urbanicity, migration/refugee status and social status. We propose a specific risk and resilience circuit mediating these effects that links perigenual cingulate cortex to subcortical structures such as ventral striatum and amygdala as well as dorsolateral and anterior medial prefrontal cortex. Social risk factors have a converging impact on structure and function of key nodes in this circuits, while resilience factors strengthen it. Understanding this neurobiology is helpful in designing preventive strategies through a better understanding of specific exposures contributing to resilience.
Ref.: Tost, H., Champagne, F. A., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2015). Environmental influence in the brain, human welfare and mental health. Nat Neurosci, 18(10), 1421-1431. doi:10.1038/nn.4108
1. Participants should be able to name three environmental risk factors for psychiatric disorders that have been related to the social environment and describe the risk increase associated with them
2. Participants should be able to describe a key neural system for environmental risk and it’s relationship to social stress.