New research with rhesus macaques shows that dominance rank has a major impact on gene regulation of the immune system. Through experimental manipulations of the dominance rank of individuals and associated measures of gene expression, this work by Jenny Tung and colleagues helps to demonstrate that social status can be a major driver of health in socially living animals, including humans. These results provide an important empirical link for social determinants of health research by showing that dominance rank within a social system is linked directly to regulatory processes of the immune system.

The paper, Social Environment Is Associated with Gene Regulatory Variation in the Rhesus Macaque Immune System (pdf here), came out in April in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was carried out by Jenny Tung, now an assistant professor at Duke University, at the Yerkes National Primate Center. Tung manipulated social rank by sequentially introducing female macaques into a new cage; the earlier arrivals generally end up with a high rank and later introductions come out low in the dominance hierarchy.

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