Glucocorticoid exposure predicts survival in female baboons

Sci Adv. 2021 Apr 21;7(17):eabf6759. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abf6759. Print 2021 Apr.


Are differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation across the adult life span linked to differences in survival? This question has been the subject of considerable debate. We analyze the link between survival and fecal glucocorticoid (GC) measures in a wild primate population, leveraging an unusually extensive longitudinal dataset of 14,173 GC measurements from 242 adult female baboons over 1634 female years. We document a powerful link between GCs and survival: Females with relatively high current GCs or high lifelong cumulative GCs face an elevated risk of death. A hypothetical female who maintained GCs in the top 90% for her age across adulthood would be expected to lose 5.4 years of life relative to a female who maintained GCs in the bottom 10% for her age. Hence, differences among individuals in HPA axis activity provide valuable prognostic information about disparities in life span.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feces
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System* / physiology
  • Male
  • Papio
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System* / physiology


  • Glucocorticoids