skip to main content

Title: Urinary neopterin of wild chimpanzees indicates that cell-mediated immune activity varies by age, sex, and female reproductive status

The study of free-living animal populations is necessary to understand life history trade-offs associated with immune investment. To investigate the role of life history strategies in shaping proinflammatory cell-mediated immune function, we analyzed age, sex, and reproductive status as predictors of urinary neopterin in 70 sexually mature chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. In the absence of clinical signs of acute infectious disease, neopterin levels significantly increased with age in both male and female chimpanzees, as observed in humans and several other vertebrate species. Furthermore, males exhibited higher neopterin levels than females across adulthood. Finally, females with full sexual swellings, pregnant females, and post-reproductive females, the oldest individuals in our sample, exhibited higher neopterin levels than lactating females and cycling females without full swellings. Variation in females’ neopterin levels by reproductive status is consistent with post-ovulatory and pregnancy-related immune patterns documented in humans. Together, our results provide evidence of ample variation in chimpanzee immune activity corresponding to biodemographic and physiological variation. Future studies comparing immune activity across ecological conditions and social systems are essential for understanding the life histories of primates and other mammals.

; ; ;
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Background

    Social isolation is a key risk factor for the onset and progression of age-related disease and mortality in humans. Nevertheless, older people commonly have narrowing social networks, with influences from both cultural factors and the constraints of senescence. We evaluate evolutionarily grounded models by studying social aging in wild chimpanzees, a system where such influences are more easily separated than in humans, and where individuals are long-lived and decline physically with age.


    We applied social network analysis to examine age-related changes in social integration in a 7+ year mixed-longitudinal dataset on 38 wild adult chimpanzees (22 females, 16 males). Metrics of social integration included social attractivity and overt effort (directed degree and strength), social roles (betweenness and local transitivity) and embeddedness (eigenvector centrality) in grooming networks.


    Both sexes reduced the strength of direct ties with age (males in-strength, females out-strength). However, males increased embeddedness with age, alongside cliquishness. These changes were independent of age-related changes in social and reproductive status. Both sexes maintained highly repeatable inter-individual differences in integration, particularly in mixed-sex networks.

    Conclusions and implications

    As in humans, chimpanzees appear to experience senescence-related declines in social engagement. However, male social embeddedness and overall sex differences were patterned more similarlymore »to humans in non-industrialized versus industrialized societies. Such comparisons suggest common evolutionary roots to ape social aging and that social isolation in older humans may hinge on novel cultural factors of many industrialized societies. Lastly, individual and sex differences are potentially important mediators of successful social aging in chimpanzees, as in humans.

    Lay summary: Few biological models explain why humans so commonly have narrowing social networks with age, despite the risk factor of social isolation that small networks pose. We use wild chimpanzees as a comparative system to evaluate models grounded in an evolutionary perspective, using social network analysis to examine changes in integration with age. Like humans in industrialized populations, chimpanzees had lower direct engagement with social partners as they aged. However, sex differences in integration and older males’ central positions within the community network were more like patterns of sociality in several non-industrialized human populations. Our results suggest common evolutionary roots to human and chimpanzee social aging, and that the risk of social isolation with age in industrialized populations stems from novel cultural factors.

    « less
  2. Cortisol, a key product of the stress response, has critical influences on degenerative aging in humans. In turn, cortisol production is affected by senescence of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to progressive dysregulation and increased cortisol exposure. These processes have been studied extensively in industrialized settings, but few comparative data are available from humans and closely related species living in natural environments, where stressors are very different. Here, we examine age-related changes in urinary cortisol in a 20-y longitudinal study of wild chimpanzees (n= 59 adults) in the Kanyawara community of Kibale National Park, Uganda. We tested for three key features of HPA aging identified in many human studies: increased average levels, a blunted diurnal rhythm, and enhanced response to stressors. Using linear mixed models, we found that aging was associated with a blunting of the diurnal rhythm and a significant linear increase in cortisol, even after controlling for changes in dominance rank. These effects did not differ by sex. Aging did not increase sensitivity to energetic stress or social status. Female chimpanzees experienced their highest levels of cortisol during cycling (versus lactation), and this effect increased with age. Male chimpanzees experienced their highest levels when exposed to sexually attractivemore »females, but this effect was diminished by age. Our results indicate that chimpanzees share some key features of HPA aging with humans. These findings suggest that impairments of HPA regulation are intrinsic to the aging process in hominids and are side effects neither of extended human life span nor of atypical environments.

    « less
  3. Abstract

    Understanding factors contributing to variation in ‘biological age’ is essential to understanding variation in susceptibility to disease and functional decline. One factor that could accelerate biological aging in women is reproduction. Pregnancy is characterized by extensive, energetically-costly changes across numerous physiological systems. These ‘costs of reproduction’ may accumulate with each pregnancy, accelerating biological aging. Despite evidence for costs of reproduction using molecular and demographic measures, it is unknown whether parity is linked to commonly-used clinical measures of biological aging. We use data collected between 1999 and 2010 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 4418) to test whether parity (number of live births) predicted four previously-validated composite measures of biological age and system integrity: Levine Method, homeostatic dysregulation, Klemera–Doubal method biological age, and allostatic load. Parity exhibited a U-shaped relationship with accelerated biological aging when controlling for chronological age, lifestyle, health-related, and demographic factors in post-menopausal, but not pre-menopausal, women, with biological age acceleration being lowest among post-menopausal women reporting between three and four live births. Our findings suggest a link between reproductive function and physiological dysregulation, and allude to possible compensatory mechanisms that buffer the effects of reproductive function on physiological dysregulation during a woman’s reproductive lifespan. Future workmore »should continue to investigate links between parity, menopausal status, and biological age using targeted physiological measures and longitudinal studies.

    « less
  4. Abstract

    Insect societies vary greatly in their social structure, mating biology, and life history. Polygyny, the presence of multiple reproductive queens in a single colony, and polyandry, multiple mating by females, both increase the genetic variability in colonies of eusocial organisms, resulting in potential reproductive conflicts. The co-occurrence of polygyny and polyandry in a single species is rarely observed across eusocial insects, and these traits have been found to be negatively correlated in ants.Acromyrmexleaf-cutting ants are well-suited for investigating the evolution of complex mating strategies because both polygyny and polyandry co-occur in this genus. We used microsatellite markers and parentage inference in five South AmericanAcromyrmexspecies to study how different selective pressures influence the evolution of polygyny and polyandry. We show thatAcromyrmexspecies exhibit independent variation in mating biology and social structure, and polygyny and polyandry are not necessarily negatively correlated within genera. One species,Acromyrmex lobicornis, displays a significantly lower mating frequency compared to others, while another species,A. lundii, appears to have reverted to obligate monogyny. These variations appear to have a small impact on average intra-colonial relatedness, although the biological significance of such a small effect size is unclear. All species show significant reproductive skew between patrilines, but there was no significantmore »difference in reproductive skew between any of the sampled species. We find that the evolution of social structure and mating biology appear to follow independent evolutionary trajectories in different species. Finally, we discuss the evolutionary implications that mating biology and social structure have on life history evolution inAcromyrmexleaf-cutting ants.

    Significance statement

    Many species of eusocial insects have colonies with multiple queens (polygyny), or queens mating with multiple males (polyandry). Both behaviors generate potentially beneficial genetic diversity in ant colonies as well as reproductive conflict. The co-occurrence of both polygyny and polyandry in a single species is only known from few ant species. Leaf-cutting ants have both multi-queen colonies and multiply mated queens, providing a well-suited system for studying the co-evolutionary dynamics between mating behavior and genetic diversity in colonies of eusocial insects. We used microsatellite markers to infer the socio-reproductive behavior in five South American leaf-cutter ant species. We found that variation in genetic diversity in colonies was directly associated with the mating frequencies of queens, but not with the number of queens in a colony. We suggest that multi-queen nesting and mating frequency evolve independently of one another, indicating that behavioral and ecological factors other than genetic diversity contribute to the evolution of complex mating behaviors in leaf-cutting ants.

    « less
  5. Abstract

    Vertebrates respond to a diversity of stressors by rapidly elevating glucocorticoid (GC) levels. The changes in physiology and behavior triggered by this response can be crucial for surviving a variety of challenges. Yet the same process that is invaluable in coping with immediate threats can also impose substantial damage over time. In addition to the pathological effects of long-term exposure to stress hormones, even relatively brief elevations can impair the expression of a variety of behaviors and physiological processes central to fitness, including sexual behavior, parental behavior, and immune function. Therefore, the ability to rapidly and effectively terminate the short-term response to stress may be fundamental to surviving and reproducing in dynamic environments. Here we review the evidence that variation in the ability to terminate the stress response through negative feedback is an important component of stress coping capacity. We suggest that coping capacity may also be influenced by variation in the dynamic regulation of GCs—specifically, the ability to rapidly turn on and off the stress response. Most tests of the fitness effects of these traits to date have focused on organisms experiencing severe or prolonged stressors. Here we use data collected from a long-term study of tree swallowsmore »(Tachycineta bicolor) to test whether variation in negative feedback, or other measures of GC regulation, predict components of fitness in non-chronically stressed populations. We find relatively consistent, but generally weak relationships between different fitness components and the strength of negative feedback. Reproductive success was highest in individuals that both mounted a robust stress response and had strong negative feedback. We did not see consistent evidence of a relationship between negative feedback and adult or nestling survival: negative feedback was retained in the best supported models of nestling and adult survival, but in two of three survival-related analyses the intercept-only model received only slightly less support. Both negative feedback and stress-induced GC levels—but not baseline GCs—were individually repeatable. These measures of GC activity did not consistently covary across ages and life history stages, indicating that they are independently regulated. Overall, the patterns seen here are consistent with the predictions that negative feedback—and the dynamic regulation of GCs—are important components of stress coping capacity, but that the fitness benefits of having strong negative feedback during the reproductive period are likely to manifest primarily in individuals exposed to chronic or repeated stressors.

    « less