As people age, maintaining a positive and predictable social environment becomes more and more important. For instance, keeping close ties with friends and family has been identified as one of the key ingredients to healthy aging.
While some declines in health, mind and body are inevitable, studies have shown that maintaining a positive social environment can help stave off some of the key stressors and challenges of aging.
Scientists have long been interested in exploring these root causes, and studying how the environment might provide a route to slow down the pace at which our brains age.
“We still don’t have a good handle on how our social environment can ‘get under the skin’ to affect our bodies and brains, but a lot of recent work has pointed to changes at the level of gene regulation-how our genes are turned on and off,” said Noah Snyder-Mackler, an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, the Center for Evolution and Medicine and affiliate of the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.
And with new technologies available, scientists can begin to tease out the mysterious connection between the dynamics of one’s social environment and molecular changes in the brain.
But with human studies difficult to perform and with aging processes protracted over decades of the typical human life span, scientists like Snyder-Mackler have turned to using our closest genetic cousins, nonhuman primates, to better understand how our social environment can alter our physiology-from the organismal level all the way down to our genes.
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