The aetiology of social deficits within mental health disorders: The role of the immune system and endogenous opioids

Sarah J. Charles, Miguel Farias, Robin I.M. Dunbar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
106 Downloads (Pure)


The American National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has put out a set of research goals that include a long-term plan to identify more reliable endogenous explanations for a wide variety of mental health disorders (Insel, 2013). In response to this, we have identified a major symptom that underlies multiple mental health disorders – social bonding dysfunction. We suggest that endogenous opioid abnormalities can lead to altered social bonding, which is a symptom of various mental health disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and ASD. This article first outlines how endogenous opioids play a role in social bonding. Then we show their association with the body’s inflammation immune function, and review recent literature linking inflammation to mental health ‘immunophenotypes’. We finish by explaining how these immunophenotypes may be caused by alterations in the endogenous opioid system. This is the first overview of the role of inflammation across multiple disorders where we provide a biochemical explanation for why immunophenotypes might exist across diagnoses. We propose a novel mechanism of how the immune system may be causing ‘sickness-type’ behaviours (fatigue, appetite change, social withdrawal and inhibited motivation) in those who have these immunophenotypes. We hope that this novel aetiology can be used as a basis for future research in mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100003
JournalBrain Behavior and Immunity - Health
Early online date18 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s)


  • immunophenotype
  • mental health
  • opioids
  • social bonding
  • psychiatry
  • endorphins
  • inflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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