Social brain, social dysfunction and social withdrawal

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Feb:97:10-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.09.012. Epub 2018 Sep 20.


The human social brain is complex. Current knowledge fails to define the neurobiological processes underlying social behaviour involving the (patho-) physiological mechanisms that link system-level phenomena to the multiple hierarchies of brain function. Unfortunately, such a high complexity may also be associated with a high susceptibility to several pathogenic interventions. Consistently, social deficits sometimes represent the first signs of a number of neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia (SCZ), Alzheimer's disease (AD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) which leads to a progressive social dysfunction. In the present review we summarize present knowledge linking neurobiological substrates sustaining social functioning, social dysfunction and social withdrawal in major psychiatric disorders. Interestingly, AD, SCZ, and MDD affect the social brain in similar ways. Thus, social dysfunction and its most evident clinical expression (i.e., social withdrawal) may represent an innovative transdiagnostic domain, with the potential of being an independent entity in terms of biological roots, with the perspective of targeted interventions.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Major depression disorder; Neurobiology; Schizophrenia; Social brain; Social cognition; Social dysfunction; Social functioning; Social impairments; Social withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Social Isolation*
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind