This five-year plan for the Pathway to Independence Award will equip Dr. Stephanie Wilson with essential knowledge and skills to help launch her career as an independent researcher in aging, social relationships, and health. This qualified candidate seeks to dedicate her research program to understanding how partnerships evolve into old age and, in turn, shape the biological cascade to healthy aging and disease. Inflammation is a complex immune process central to many diseases of aging. The proposed training at The Ohio State University's premiere Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research with the mentorship of renowned experts in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) will supplement the candidate's expertise in adult development and couples' relationships with a foundation in PNI, particularly inflammation and immunosenescence, to better equip her to investigate the disease processes that most commonly afflict aging couples. Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of paths leading to early functional decline, diseases of aging (cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome), and death. Inflammatory responses to stress also become dysregulated as the immune system ages, and thus increase age-related vulnerability to decline. On the other hand, emotion theories of aging have emphasized the emotion-regulation advantages gained with life lived. Older adults' ability to avoid or reframe some stressors provides a way to circumvent the stress-related health risks that age exacerbates. This proposal probes age differences in inflammatory responses to couple conflict and partner emotional disclosure, a novel context important for older adults. These studies will also test an unexamined mechanism of context-dependent age risks, autonomic synchrony (e.g., how closely partners' heart rates sync).
The first aim ?to examine the roles of partner age, conflict behavior and appraisals, and synchrony in inflammatory response to conflict? will be addressed in the K99 phase using existing data. Consistent with prior research, it is predicted that older adults will behave less negatively in conflict than younger partners, and in turn, greater negativity will relate to stronger synchrony with the spouse. Autonomic synchrony will be linked to elevated inflammatory responses, and the inflammatory effects of negative behavior and synchrony will be stronger for older adults than younger adults.
The second aim will examine the same processes in the context of listening to partners' emotional disclosure. Unlike conflict, it is predicted that one partner's need to share suffering will motivate the listening partner to remain engaged, regardless of age and physiological risk. Thus, without active avoidance, listening to a partner disclose may exact particularly high inflammatory costs in older adults. Novel data from a disclosure task will be collected in the K99 phase and analyzed in Years 2 and 3 to inform a follow-up study in the R00 phase and an R01 submission in the fourth award year.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research will illuminate marriage's contributions to inflammation, a hallmark of age-related disease, functional decline, and death, as a function of age. Studies will examine couples' inflammatory responses to conflict and partner disclosure, a central interaction context for aging couples, and test a promising physiological mechanism, autonomic synchrony between partners. The research will also evaluate the hypothesis that older adults face heightened inflammatory burden in response to these common marital interactions, and therefore, greater risk for age-related disease and decline.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Career Transition Award (K99)
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Neuroscience of Aging Review Committee (NIA)
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Gerald, Melissa S
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Ohio State University
Schools of Medicine
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Wilson, Stephanie J; Martire, Lynn M; Graham-Engeland, Jennifer E (2018) Capturing patients' symptom expression and spouses' cardiovascular responses continuously: The feasibility of examining a mechanism of disease risk in the home. Fam Syst Health 36:518-522
Wilson, Stephanie J; Bailey, Brittney E; Jaremka, Lisa M et al. (2018) When couples' hearts beat together: Synchrony in heart rate variability during conflict predicts heightened inflammation throughout the day. Psychoneuroendocrinology 93:107-116
Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K; Wilson, Stephanie J; Bailey, Michael L et al. (2018) Marital distress, depression, and a leaky gut: Translocation of bacterial endotoxin as a pathway to inflammation. Psychoneuroendocrinology 98:52-60