Why are some species more commonly afflicted by arthritis than others? A comparative study of spondyloarthropathy in primates and carnivores


  • C. L. NUNN,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    2. Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
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    1. Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Carnegie Museum, Arthritis Center of Northeast Ohio, Youngstown, OH, USA
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    1. Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
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    • **

      Current address: Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA

C. L. Nunn, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Tel.: +49-341-3550-204; fax: +49-341-3550-299;
e-mail: nunn@eva.mpg.de


Spondyloarthropathy is a painful arthritic affliction of humans that also occurs in wild mammals. Important questions remain concerning the underlying causes of spondyloarthropathy in mammals, particularly regarding whether it is infectious in origin or driven by genetic predisposition and environmental stressors. Moreover, spondyloarthropathy has negative effects on host fitness, leading to potential conservation concerns if it impacts threatened species. Using a comparative data set on the prevalence of joint disease in 34 primate species and 100 carnivore species, we tested predictions involving the epidemiological correlates of spondyloarthropathy in wild mammals. Analyses revealed that 5.6% of primates and 3.6% of carnivores exhibited signs of spondyloarthropathy, with maximum incidence as high as 22% in great apes and 27% in bears. We tested whether prevalence of spondyloarthropathy increases with population density and group size, greater contact with soil, a slower host life history, increased ranging, dietary factors and body mass. We found general support for an effect of body mass, with larger bodied primates and carnivores exhibiting a higher prevalence of spondyloarthropathy. In addition, more threatened species experienced higher rates of spondyloarthropathy, with this association influenced by body mass and phylogeny. The effect of body mass could reflect that larger animals are exposed to more pathogens through greater consumption of resources, or that joints of larger bodied mammals experience greater biomechanical stresses, resulting in inflammation and activation of local joint infections.