Social affiliation predicts mitochondrial DNA copy number in female rhesus macaques

Reena Debray, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Jordan N. Kohn, Mark E. Wilson, Luis B. Barreiro, Jenny Tung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In many social mammals, social adversity predicts compromised health and reduced fitness. These effects are thought to be driven in part by chronic social stress, but their molecular underpinnings are not well understood. Recent work suggests that chronic stress can affect mitochondrial copy number, heteroplasmy rates and function. Here, we tested the first two possibilities for the first time in non-human primates. We manipulated dominance rank in captive female rhesus macaques (n ¼ 45), where low rank induces chronic social stress, and measured mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number and heteroplasmy in five peripheral blood mononuclear cell types from each study subject. We found no effect of dominance rank on either mtDNA copy number or heteroplasmy rates. However, grooming rate, a measure of affiliative social behaviour predicted by high social status, was positively associated with mtDNA copy number in B cells, cytotoxic T cells and monocytes. Our results suggest that social interactions can influence mtDNA regulation in immune cells. Further, they indicate the importance of considering both affiliative and competitive interactions in investigating this relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180643
JournalBiology letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Peripheral blood mononuclear cells
  • Primates
  • Social integration
  • Social status
  • Social stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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