Past low social status leaves long-lasting scars in the immune system, new study finds - Featuring Luis Barreiro

Nov 11, 2019
By Sarah Richards

Adult rhesus macaque monkeys' previous status in their community's social hierarchy has a lingering effect on how their genes behave.

Past low social status leaves long-lasting scars in the immune system, new study finds

Geneticist Luis Barreiro finds that adult monkeys' previous status in their community's social hierarchy had a lingering effect on how their genes behaved. 

 New research suggests that the chronic stress that comes with low social status in adult monkeys continues to influence their immune system up to a year later, even after their social status has improved. The study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Duke University found that the adult monkeys’ previous status in their community’s social hierarchy had a lingering effect on how their genes behaved.

The findings extend established ideas around biological embedding, which suggest that it is experiences in the first few years of our lives – such as being raised in a safe, caring environment, versus one that involves abuse – that are more likely to leave long-term effects on our biology and development.

“Events that occurred in adulthood can also have a long-term impact on the function of your cells and biology of your system,” said study co-author Luis Barreiro, PhD, a University of Chicago geneticist. “Somehow, the cells in our body remember something about our social experiences, even though they may have happened months or up to a year ago.”

The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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