Social status predicts wound healing in wild male baboons

Author: Elizabeth Archie

We recently published a paper in PNAS with results that are relevant to social status and health. The paper can be accessed here. The abstract is below.

Social status can have striking effects on health in humans and other animals, but the causes often are unknown. In male vertebrates, status-related differences in health may be influenced by correlates of male social status that suppress immune responses. Immunosuppressive correlates of low social status may include chronic social stress, poor physical condition, and old age; the immunosuppressive correlates of high status may include high testosterone and energetic costs of reproduction. Here we test whether these correlates could create status-related differences in immune function by measuring the incidence of illness and injury and then examining healing rates in a 27-y data set of natural injuries and illnesses in wild baboon males. We found no evidence that the high testosterone and intense reproductive effort associated with high rank suppress immune responses. Instead, high-ranking males were less likely to become ill, and they recovered more quickly than low-ranking males, even controlling for differences in age. Notably, alpha males, who experience high glucocorticoids, as well as the highest testosterone and reproductive effort, healed significantly faster than other males, even other high-ranking males. We discuss why alpha males seem to escape from the immunosuppressive costs of glucocorticoids but low-ranking males do not, including the idea that glucocorticoids’ effects depend on an individual’s physiological and social context.

This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, including rants IOS 1053461, IBN 9985910, IBN 0322613, IBN 0322781, BCS 0323553, BCS 0323596, DEB 0846286, DEB 0846286, DEB 0846532, and IOS 0919200. Support also came from the National Institute of Aging Grants R01AG034513-01 and P01AG031719 and from the Princeton Center for the Demography of Aging Grant P30AG024361.