Social isolation makes people stressed out and forgetful, but soon a drug could cure this problem. Late last year, scientists isolated a brain enzyme that triggers the "loneliness" feelings during periods of solitude. Replenishing that enzyme in the brain could enhance memory and relieve stress when you're spending a lot of time by yourself working (or space traveling).
Researchers at the University of Illinois kept several mice in isolation from each other to see what chemical changes took place in their brains. Turns out the lonely mice experienced reduced levels of a brain enzyme that helps create a stress-relieving neurosteroid called allopregnanolone. A release from the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, where the researchers' paper was published, explained:
Such alterations in the synthesis of allopregnanolone may account for the anxiety, aggression, and memory impairments that result from social isolation, the authors suggest.
It's possible that boosting the enzyme that helps create allopregnanolone could relieve feelings of loneliness that trigger memory blocks. Or perhaps simply administering allopregnanolone would do it too. Either way, further research might uncover a drug that would make it possible for humans to undergo intensive periods of aloneness without going mad.
Image is of a fluorescent neuron.
Social-isolation behavior in mice [PNAS]