, Volume 70, Issue 22, pp 4323-4339,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 18 May 2013

Social environmental effects on gene regulation

Abstract

Social environmental conditions, particularly the experience of social adversity, have long been connected with health and mortality in humans and other social mammals. Efforts to identify the physiological basis for these effects have historically focused on their neurological, endocrinological, and immunological consequences. Recently, this search has been extended to understanding the role of gene regulation in sensing, mediating, and determining susceptibility to social environmental variation. Studies in laboratory rodents, captive primates, and human populations have revealed correlations between social conditions and the regulation of a large number of genes, some of which are likely causal. Gene expression responses to the social environment are, in turn, mediated by a set of underlying regulatory mechanisms, of which epigenetic marks are the best studied to date. Importantly, a number of genes involved in the response to the social environment are also associated with susceptibility to other external stressors, as well as certain diseases. Hence, gene regulatory studies are a promising avenue for understanding, and potentially developing strategies to address, the effects of social adversity on health.