Women's Health, Primate Behavioral Biology, Social Stress and Depression: Opportunities for research are in the general area of the role of social stress in disease susceptibility in nonhuman primates. The majority of the research in the lab is funded through NIH.

Social status, social isolation and novel environments are some of the stressors being examined. Individual differences in behavioral, sympathetic nervous system, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal responsivity to stress are being assessed. Evaluations of pathologic responses to social factors include atherosclerosis, coronary vasomotor reactivity, bone density and biochemistry, breast cancer risk, depression, lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, body composition and regional fat distribution measured with DEXA and CT, metabolic syndrome, and immune system function. In addition, PET, MRI, MRS, quantitative receptor autoradiography, unbiased stereology, gene expression and protein level determinations are used to assess the effects of stress on brain function, and the depressed brain.

Two current areas of research include:

  • Social inequalities in health
  • Modeling the comorbidity of coronary heart disease and depression in a primate model

Social inequalities in health are widely recognized to contribute to the global burden of disease. It is critical for us to understand how low social status is translated into illness. Like human beings, a central organizing mechanism of macaque society is the social status hierarchy. Also like human beings, many aspects of health are inversely related to social status in macaques, and we are studying these relationships.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) and depression are inversely related to social status in human beings. Depression and CHD are highly comorbid in the human population. CHD patients who experience depression are much more likely to die of a second heart attack in the next 18 months. The mechanisms underlying this comorbidity are poorly understood. We are studying this comorbidity in monkeys.

We are currently investigating the role of diet in modulating physiological stress responses. The Western diet appears to exaggerate physiological stress responses and may be one mechanism through which this diet has deleterious effects on health. We are testing whether Mediterranean diet consumption minimizes physiological responses to social stress.

Finally, we are studying neuropathological characteristics of Alzheimer’s Disease in nonhuman primates and their relationships with diet, age, stress, and depression.