Social stress is reflected in the immune system in primates


An esteemed research team from the University of Chicago have reported the results of a study examining social stress and the impact of socioeconomic status on immune system health . The researchers have claimed to be able to establish a rhesus macaque’s social status within a small group by examining gene expression in their immune cells.

The research has been published this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. It builds on existing research that has suggested macaques that are of a lower social status, have higher levels of inflammation in their immune systems and have higher levels of stress hormones. Inflammation and heightened stress levels are indicative of poor health and immune system under-performance.

This latest research examined 10 groups of five female macaques. Researchers manipulated the social ranks within each group and used microarray technology which scans thousands of genes and reads their expression levels; this allowed an examination of each macaque’s immune cells. The results reported that the gene activity that changed to the greatest extent as a result of changes of social rank was what controlled inflammation.

The research has implications for how the different levels of stress associated with socioeconomic status directly impacts human health. The results indicate that an individual’s social environment partially determines health status. Additionally, the research has been reported to show the capacity of the human body to adapt in response to the stress of social changes.