Polymorphisms in the serotonin reuptake transporter gene modify the consequences of social status on metabolic health in female rhesus monkeys

Physiol Behav. 2008 Mar 18;93(4-5):807-19. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.11.042. Epub 2007 Dec 4.


Individuals vary substantially in their vulnerability to physical and psychosocial stressors. The causes of such variation in susceptibility to stress are poorly understood, but are thought to relate in part to genetic factors. The present study evaluated the extent to which polymorphisms in the gene encoding the serotonin reuptake transporter (5HTTLPR or SERT) modulated physiologic responses to the imposition of psychosocial stress (social reorganization and subordinate social status) in female rhesus monkeys. Forty females, drawn from the middle ranking genealogies of several large social groups, were reorganized into eight groups containing 5 monkeys each; four groups were comprised entirely of animals homogeneous for the long promoter variant in the SERT gene (l/l), while the other four groups had monkeys with at least one allele of the short promoter variant (l/s or s/s). Females were sequentially introduced into these new groups in random order and dominance ranks were established within several days. During the ensuing 6 weeks, dominant monkeys exhibited elevated rates of aggression while subordinates displayed high rates of submission. Notably, females with the s-variant SERT genotype, collapsed across social status positions, exhibited the highest overall rates of both aggression and submission. Although neither social status nor SERT genotype influenced morning cortisol concentrations, glucocorticoid negative feedback was reduced significantly in subordinate compared to dominant females irrespective of genotype. All animals lost weight and abdominal fat across the experiment. However, decreases were greatest in subordinates, regardless of genotype, and least in dominant females with the l/l genotype. Serum concentrations of insulin, glucose, and ghrelin decreased significantly during the group formation process, effects that were independent of genotype or social status. In contrast, social status and genotype interacted to influence changes in serum concentrations of leptin and triiodothyronine (T3), as dominant, l/l females had the highest levels while subordinate s-variant females had the lowest levels. The order in which a female was introduced to her group generally predicted her eventual social rank. However, rank was additionally predicted by pre-experimental T3 and abdominal fat values, but only in the l/l animals. While these findings must be replicated with a larger sample size, the data suggest that the s-variant SERT genotype confers increased vulnerability to the adverse effects of psychosocial stress associated with subordinate status while the l/l genotype benefits the most from the absence of stress conferred by dominant social status. These findings suggest that genetic factors modify the responses of monkeys to social subordination and perhaps other psychosocial stressors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Female
  • Hormones / metabolism*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Social Dominance*
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Hormones
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone