Understanding individual capability to adjust to protracted confinement and isolation may inform adaptive plasticity and disease vulnerability/resilience, and may have long-term implications for operations requiring prolonged presence in distant and restricted environments. Individual coping depends on many different factors encompassing psychological dispositional traits, endocrine reactivity and their underlying molecular mechanisms (e.g. gene expression). A positive view of self and others (secure attachment style) has been proposed to promote individual resilience under extreme environmental conditions. Here, we tested this hypothesis and investigated the underlying molecular mechanisms in 13 healthy volunteers confined and isolated for 12 months in a research station located 1670 km away from the south geographic pole on the Antarctic Plateau at 3233 m above sea level. Study participants, stratified for attachment style, were characterised longitudinally (before, during and after confinement) for their psychological appraisal of the stressful nature of the expedition, diurnal fluctuations in endocrine stress reactivity, and gene expression profiling (transcriptomics). Predictably, a secure attachment style was associated with reduced psychological distress and endocrine vulnerability to stress. In addition, while prolonged confinement and isolation remarkably altered overall patterns of gene expression, such alteration was largely reduced in individuals characterised by a secure attachment style. Furthermore, increased resilience was associated with a reduced expression of genes involved in energy metabolism (mitochondrial function and oxidative phosphorylation). Ultimately, our data indicate that a secure attachment style may favour individual resilience in extreme environments and that such resilience can be mapped onto identifiable molecular substrates.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry