'Hunker down' stress genes boosted in women who live in violent neighborhoods
Professors involved in the study
Illinois professors pictured, from left: Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, animal sciences; Andrew Greenlee, urban and regional planning; Gene Robinson, entomology; and Ruby Mendenhall, sociology and African American studies.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Sandra Rodriguez-Zas
March 12, 2021

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The chronic stress of living in neighborhoods with high rates of violence and poverty alters gene activity in immune cells, according to a new study of low-income single Black mothers on the South Side of Chicago.

 The changes in stress-related gene expression reflect the body’s “hunker down” response to long-term threat, a physiological strategy for lying low and considering new actions rather than launching an immediate “fight-or-flight” response. This has implications for health outcomes in communities of color and other marginalized populations, said researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and collaborators at the University of Kentucky and UCLA. The researchers published the study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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