The relationship of agonistic and affiliative behavior patterns to cellular immune function among cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) living in unstable social groups
Considerable recent interest has focused on the possibility that behavioral factors may influence immune competence, and hence, potentially, patterns of disease. We report here the relationship between the aggressive and affiliative behavior and the cellular immune responses of 30 adult male cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) living in small (n = 5) social groups whose members were periodically redistributed over 26 months. Animals also were subjected to behavioral observation, allowing them to be categorized as either high or low in aggressiveness and affiliation. At the end of the 26 months, lymphocyte proliferation tests were performed on blood samples from all monkeys, using both concanavalin A (ConA) and phytohemagglutinin (PHA) in concentrations of 1, 5, and 10 ug/ml. Two-by-two (Aggressiveness [high, low] X Affiliation [high, low]) analyses of variance performed on these data showed lymphocyte proliferation in response to both ConA and PHA to be greatest (at 1 ug/ml) among highly affiliative animals, albeit only if they were also low in aggressiveness (ConA: Affiliation x Aggression, P < 0.02; PHA: Affiliation x Aggression, P < 0.03). An additional finding was that natural killer cell activity (at an effector to target ratio of 100:1) was highest among highly affiliative animals, regardless of their aggressiveness (P < 0.05). These results indicate that immune competence may be enhanced among monkeys which, in response to a disrupted social environment, spend large amounts of time in affiliation with other animals. Social status, a phenomenon known to influence many aspects of nonhuman primate physiology, was unassociated with nonspecific lymphocyte blastogenesis or natural killer cell activity in this experiment.