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Chronic stress, allostatic load, and aging in nonhuman primates

  • Dario Maestripieri (a1) and Christy L. Hoffman (a1)

Allostatic load is the “wear and tear” of the body resulting from the repeated activation of compensatory physiological mechanisms in response to chronic stress. Allostatic load can significantly affect the aging process and result in reduced longevity, accelerated aging, and impaired health. Although low socioeconomic status is associated with high allostatic load during aging, the effects of status-related psychosocial stress on allostatic load are often confounded by lifestyle variables. Chronic psychosocial stress associated with low dominance rank in nonhuman primates represents an excellent animal model with which to investigate allostatic load and aging in humans. Research conducted with free-ranging rhesus monkeys suggests that female reproduction can also be a source of stress and allostatic load. Female reproduction is associated with increased risk of mortality and hyperactivation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. Reproduction is especially stressful and costly for aging females of low rank. Although many indicators of body condition and neuroendocrine and immune function are influenced by aging, there are marked and stable individual differences among aging females in body condition, plasma cortisol responses to stress, and cytokine responses to stress. These differences are consistent with the hypothesis that there are strong differences in chronic stress among individuals, and that allostatic load resulting from chronic stress affects health during aging. Comparisons between captive and free-ranging rhesus monkey populations may allow us to understand how differences in environmental stress and allostatic load affect rates of aging, and how these in turn translate into differences in longevity and health.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dario Maestripieri, University of Chicago, 5730 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637; E-mail:
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