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Camara Carter

Camara Carter

The University of Georgia
College of Veterinary Medicine
Class of 2019

Research Interests

Personality and immune system function in wild cotton rats

Camara A. Carter, Lea Briard, and Vanessa O. Ezenwa

College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga (Carter, Ezenwa); Odum School of Ecology,
University of Georgia, Athens, GA (Briard, Ezenwa)

Personality, defined as consistent behavioral differences between individuals, has been linked to immune responsiveness in humans. For example, more extraverted subjects exhibit increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes, suggesting a correlation between boldness and a stronger immune response. A suite of recent wildlife studies has also found support for this link, however, much is still unknown about the association between personality and the immune system, including the extent to which this is a general phenomenon across mammals. In this study, we examined the relationship between personality and immune system function in wild cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus). The cotton rat is an ideal system for studying this association as it is an established model of human infectious disease that is easily manipulated in its natural environment. Using subjects collected from field sites in Athens, GA, we hypothesized that boldness in wild cotton rats is correlated with stronger immune function, because bolder animals might compensate for increased pathogen exposure with stronger immunological defenses. To test this hypothesis, we assessed individual personality by quantifying the frequency with which individuals are trapped, exploration in a novel environment, and duration and distance of movement in a novel environment; three measures that support boldness. We also assessed two components of innate immune function, white blood cell counts (cellular immunity) and serum bacteria killing ability (humoral immunity). By shedding light on the influence of personality on immune defenses our work will contribute to a better understanding of how behavioral traits shape variation in individual susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Research Grant: Odum School of Ecology

Student Support: NIH Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, Grant Number 2T35OD010433-11

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