Social status alters immune regulation and response to infection in macaques

Science. 2016 Nov 25;354(6315):1041-1045. doi: 10.1126/science.aah3580.


Social status is one of the strongest predictors of human disease risk and mortality, and it also influences Darwinian fitness in social mammals more generally. To understand the biological basis of these effects, we combined genomics with a social status manipulation in female rhesus macaques to investigate how status alters immune function. We demonstrate causal but largely plastic social status effects on immune cell proportions, cell type-specific gene expression levels, and the gene expression response to immune challenge. Further, we identify specific transcription factor signaling pathways that explain these differences, including low-status-associated polarization of the Toll-like receptor 4 signaling pathway toward a proinflammatory response. Our findings provide insight into the direct biological effects of social inequality on immune function, thus improving our understanding of social gradients in health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Immunity, Cellular / genetics
  • Immunity, Cellular / physiology*
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology*
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Signal Transduction
  • Social Class*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / immunology


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4