In a recent study done by Duke University, researchers found that in Rhesus monkey’s health became improved depending on the social status of the various monkeys. Many other studies have been done that have concluded that social status can improve stress levels in all animals including humans. In fact, the reduced stress levels of those monkeys with a higher social status did have lower stress levels than those who were at lower levels in the “social structure”. What this study uncovered, however, was the true health benefits to being in a higher social structure.
The research was conducted on 45 female rhesus monkeys. The monkeys were split into groups gradually. As expected the monkeys that were introduced to a group later often did not have a very high social status in the group. Once this was done the researchers then tested the immune cells of the monkeys to see which genes were expressed in the monkeys of the different classes. They found that, in the Rhesus monkeys in the different classes, “more than 1,600” of the genes were expressed differently between higher and lower ranking monkeys. It was found that the differences were especially prevalent in NK cells or “natural killer cells”. This is significant because these cells are considered vital in the prevention of tumors and viruses. They can do this by signaling certain T cells to a virus that are then able to clear out the infection. After finding these results, the scientists conducted the study again, mixing up the groups just as they did the last time. They found that when they introduced the groups in an opposite order that the monkeys that previously were in a lower class in their other group were now in a higher class in their new group. When they re-examined the immune cells of the monkeys they found that the genes being expressed had flipped. The monkeys that had previously been in a low class and were now in a high class were expressing genes that the monkeys in the higher class had been expressing in the first study. Finally, at the end of the study a pathogen was introduced into the white blood cells taken from the animals. In the monkeys from the lower classes the inflammatory genes became over worked and lost function.
You may be wondering what significance does a study about monkeys have on humans. Well in fact, things such as stress level and inflammatory genes in white blood cells have a huge impact on ability to fight diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. These inflammatory diseases are diseases that have shown to be increasingly prevalent in lower social standings in humans. It is thought that if the findings in this study are similar in other studies that the way to fight diseases such as diabetes won’t be isolated to treatment from medicine alone, but also by improving a person’s social network.