Social benefits of wound healing may not make any difference in animals with multiple partners

A new study suggests that wounds on mice that prefer multiple mates heal at the same rate, whether the mice are housed with a mate or live in isolation.

But the same doesn’t ring true for monogamous mice, said Courtney DeVries, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University.

She and Erica Glasper, a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State, took a closer look at the effects social bonding had on wound healing in monogamous and non-monogamous deer mice. Non-monogamous males mate with more than one female during a breeding season. The researchers especially wanted to see if social interaction, or the lack of it, made a difference in the rate of wound healing in the non-monogamous mice.

It didn’t. In fact, levels of corticosterone – a stress hormone that rodents secrete – in the non-monogamous mice were the same whether they were paired or alone, and were also significantly lower than the corticosterone levels of paired, monogamous mice.

These findings are currently published in the online version of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

Social contact benefited the monogamous mice – corticosterone levels were lower, and wounds also healed faster. But separated pairs lost this benefit, even if the mice in a separated pair could still see each other through a screen.

Wounds on the non-monogamous mice – paired or unpaired – healed just as quickly as the wounds on the paired, monogamous mice.
“It suggests that the beneficial effects of social housing aren’t equivalent for all species, and may be limited to those that are monogamous or otherwise highly social,” DeVries said. “Indeed, for some species, living with one or more companions may actually induce social stress and have deleterious effects on health.

“With humans, it can be difficult to alter someone’s social conditions, to get people to bond with others,” she continued. “If we could identify a mechanism by which social interaction helps wounds heal, then we might be able to provide a pharmacological aid to facilitate healing in socially isolated people and other individuals at risk.”

The research was supported by a seed grant from the Ohio State University Stress and Wound Healing Center.

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