Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Davis

UC Davis Previously Published Works bannerUC Davis

Early Social Stress Promotes Inflammation and Disease Risk in Rhesus Monkeys


Early social stress has potent lifelong health effects. We examined the association of early stress in the attachment relationship (low maternal sensitivity, low MS), lower maternal social hierarchy rank, and greater frequency of group-level social conflict, with biomarkers of inflammatory stress response in plasma (IL-8, MCP-1 and CRP collected two hours after temporary separation from mothers and social groups) and risk for developing a common macaques disease outcome (infectious colitis) in 170 socially-housed rhesus monkeys. We controlled for gene-environment correlations by comparing cross-fostered subjects with infants reared by their biological mothers. Low MS predicted higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and proteins at 3-4 months of age (F(3, 162) = 3.508, p = 0.002, partial eta2 = 0.061) and higher lifetime risk for developing colitis for up to twelve years of age (chi square = 5.919, p = 0.026). Lower maternal social rank (F (3, 162) = 3.789, p = 0.012, partial eta2 = 0.06) and higher rates of social conflict (F (3, 162) = 4.264, p = 0.006, partial eta2 = 0.074) each also predicted greater inflammation in infancy, but not lifetime colitis risk (both p > 0.05). The effects of low MS, lower social rank, and higher social conflict were significant in infants reared by biological mothers and cross-fostered infants, suggesting that our results did not arise from gene-environment correlations, but environmental stressors alone. We conclude that several types of early social stress confer risk for inflammation in infancy, but that stress in the mother-infant relationship may confer the longest-term risk for adverse health outcomes.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View