The Non-Human Primate Model for Early Human Development

Stuart Meyers1 and Renee Riejo-Pera2

  • 1DepartmentofAnatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology, SchoolofVeterinaryMedicine, UniversityofCalifornia, Davis, CA, USA
  • 2DepartmentofCell Biologyand Neurosciences, and DepartmentofChemistryand Biochemistry, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA


Non-human primates (NHPs) have been shown to be highly relevant models for studies of human infectious disease and fundamental pathophysiology [1, 2]. Indeed, more than 70 human infectious diseases have been studied in NHPs including childhood, tropical, emergent, and bioterrorism diseases [1]. NHPs have also been used to address issues related to women’s health, assisted reproduction, fetal well-being, and miscarriage and have been shown to be highly relevant models for studies of assisted reproduction, gamete biology, endocrine control of gamete production, and behavior [2-12]. Research areas in fertilization, gamete cryopreservation, early embryonic and fetal development, pregnancy, and menopause have also utilized this model of human reproduction [7, 10, 13-15]. Although macaque species (Macaca) from southern Asia are the major biomedical resource in the United States, the rhesus macaque (M. mulatta) of Indian origin has been studied most extensively for decades and is the most populous NHP in North America. It was reported that there were more than 70,000 NHPs in US research centers as recently as 2010, comprised mainly of rhesus and cynomolgus (M. fascicularis) macaques [15]. Many research centers maintain breeding programs to decrease import demands from Asia and purpose-bred macaques are used in order to decrease population pressures on wild populations.

Human Reproduction: Updates and NewHorizons, First Edition. Edited by Heide Schatten. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Imports of macaques have declined annually in recent years (reviewed by Shively [15]) for various reasons.

One major drawback to NHP model utilization is that of high expense in maintaining colonies of research animals. Arguably, the cost of NHP research has risen at a faster rate than rodent or non-mammalian models. Moreover, and because of their close genetics, disease susceptibility, and behavioral patterns with humans, animal rights activists have increasingly focused on decreasing research using NHPs. Indeed, several airlines have discontinued transportation of NHPs from Asia [16] putting a new strain on the ability for primate research centers to breed enough animals to meet needs of scientists in numerous critically important research areas including cancer, neurodegenerative, and infectious diseases [17]. Consequently, and in addition to the poor research funding climate that currently exists, a relatively small literature exists from an increasingly smaller group of principal investigators working in NHP research in the field of reproduction. This review will focus primarily on the NHP model of early human development following fertilization. It is not intended to be an exhaustive review, but rather an overview of examples of this model for human gametes and early embryos.

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