Advantages and limitations of nonhuman primates as animal models in genetic research on complex diseases


Department of Genetics, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, P.O. Box 760549, San Antonio, Texas 78245–0549.


Abstract: The genetic similarity between humans and nonhuman primates makes nonhuman primates uniquely suited as models for genetic research on complex physiological and behavioral phenotypes. By comparison with human subjects, nonhuman primates, like other animal models, have several advantages for these types of studies: 1) constant environmental conditions can be maintained over long periods of time, greatly increasing the power to detect genetic effects; 2) different environmental conditions can be imposed sequentially on individuals to characterize genotype-environment interactions; 3) complex pedigrees that are much more powerful for genetic analysis than typically available human pedigrees can be generated; 4) genetic hypotheses can be tested prospectively by selective matings; and 5) essential invasive and terminal experiments can be conducted. Limitations of genetic research with nonhuman primates include cost and availability. However, the ability to manipulate both genetic and environmental factors in captive primate populations indicates the promise of genetic research with these important animal models for illuminating complex disease processes. The utility of nonhuman primates for biomedical research on human health problems is illustrated by examples concerning the use of baboons in studies of osteoporosis, alcohol metabolism, and lipoproteins.