New research shows that social rank and stress from changes in social rank can actually alter gene expression in primates and even impact their immune system.
Using gene chip technology to help compare high- and low-ranking rhesus macaque females, in which dominance is expressed through competition over food, water, and grooming partners, researchers discovered that when social rank improves, gene expression involved in the immune response and other functions changed within a matter of weeks.
The “signature” of expression changes was so distinct, researchers were able to predict an individual monkey’s social rank with high accuracy by only using their gene expression profile. The research fits with studies that suggest humans suffering social stress at a lower socioeconomic status are at a greater risk of disease.
Video produced by Jim Festante.