Social environmental effects on gene regulation in nonhuman primates

Event Details:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM
ECA A101


In social species, including our own, interactions with the other members of the same species powerfully shape the environment that animals face each day. These interactions mediate the evolutionary costs and benefits of group living. My lab uses nonhuman animal models—particularly social primates—to study how the nature and timing of social interactions impact health and fitness-related outcomes. Using a functional genomic approach, we show that social status is strongly reflected in gene expression profiles collected from immune cells, in both baboons and rhesus macaques. However, while social status causally drives variation in immune gene regulation in captive macaques, our analyses suggest that, in male baboons, differences in immune gene expression are indicators of condition or quality that may precede attainment of high rank. By following the same female macaques over time, when they occupied two different positions in the status hierarchy, we also quantify variation in sensitivity of gene expression to current social conditions versus past social experience. We show that status-driven gene expression patterns carry a signature of past social history, in support of social experience-mediated biological embedding. Together, our findings highlight one way that the social environment can "get under the skin" to influence health and lifespan. However, they also emphasize the importance of social context in shaping the relationship between social status and immune function.