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Brain Behav Immun. 2008 Jul;22(5):676-89. Epub 2007 Aug 23.

Personality and serotonin transporter genotype interact with social context to affect immunity and viral set-point in simian immunodeficiency virus disease.

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California National Primate Research Center, Department of Psychology, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


From the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, stress has been a suspected contributor to the wide variation seen in disease progression, and some evidence supports this idea. Not all individuals respond to a stressor in the same way, however, and little is known about the biological mechanisms by which variations in individuals' responses to their environment affect disease-relevant immunologic processes. Using the simian immunodeficiency virus/rhesus macaque model of AIDS, we explored how personality (Sociability) and genotype (serotonin transporter promoter) independently interact with social context (Stable or Unstable social conditions) to influence behavioral expression, plasma cortisol concentrations, SIV-specific IgG, and expression of genes associated with Type I interferon early in infection. SIV viral RNA set-point was strongly and negatively correlated with survival as expected. Set-point was also associated with expression of interferon-stimulated genes, with CXCR3 expression, and with SIV-specific IgG titers. Poorer immune responses, in turn, were associated with display of sustained aggression and submission. Personality and genotype acted independently as well as in interaction with social condition to affect behavioral responses. Together, the data support an "interactionist" perspective [Eysenck, H.J., 1991. Personality, stress and disease: an interactionist perspective. Psychol. Inquiry 2, 221-232] on disease. Given that an important goal of HIV treatment is to maintain viral set-point as low as possible, our data suggest that supplementing anti-retroviral therapy with behavioral or pharmacologic modulation of other aspects of an organism's functioning might prolong survival, particularly among individuals living under conditions of threat or uncertainty.

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