Jay R. Kaplan, PhD
Professor of Pathology (Comparative Medicine) and Anthropology (Wake Forest University)
Section Head, Comparative Medicine; Director, Wake Forest Primate Center (WFPC)
Initial, Current, and Future Research:
Biobehavioral Studies, Women’s Health, Genetics and Disease
My primary training was in biological anthropology, with a specialization in primate behavior and biology. Early in my career I became interested in the influence on health and disease of the social gradient (i.e., the ‘dominance’ hierarchy) characteristic of monkey groups. Initial studies in my laboratory demonstrated that high ranking males were at increased risk of coronary artery atherosclerosis, but only if they were living in frequently disrupted social groups. Importantly, this effect could be entirely inhibited with beta-adrenergic blocking agents, suggesting mediation by the sympathetic nervous system (Figure 1).
FIGURE 1: A schematic illustration of how changes in sympathetic activity can affect risk factors for cardiovascular disease at the cellular level. BP=Blood Pressure; HR=Heart Rate; SMC=Smooth Muscle Cell
My current research with monkeys focuses on the behavioral and genetic factors that influence the quality of premenopausal ovarian function, and in turn, on the effect of ovarian function on risk for chronic disease, including coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. This research has demonstrated that among group housed females, individuals that are low ranking in the dominance hierarchy experience mild ovarian dysfunction (as indicated by alterations in menstrual cyclicity and reduction in ovarian hormones). Although such disruption would be considered subclinical in women, it nonetheless provokes a precocious acceleration of coronary artery atherosclerosis and bone loss in monkeys. Furthermore, our recent studies have shown that the postmenopausal trajectory for atherosclerosis is established during the premenopausal years, irrespective of hormonal or dietary interventions that might occur following surgical menopause (Figure 2). If translated to women, these results suggest that primary prevention of postmenopausal disease should begin in the decades prior to menopause. My laboratory’s future research plans include identifying in female monkeys the trajectory of chronic disease risk, as it evolves across the lifespan in relation to both environmental and genetic factors.
FIGURE 2: Peri- and Postmenopausal atherosclerosis progression in relation to premenopausal trajectory
Link to PubMed Database