Innovative Nursery-Rearing for Improving Rhesus Macaques as Biomedical Models

Project: Research project


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): A major goal of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) is to maintain successful breeding programs at NCRR-funded primate centers for specific-pathogen-free (SPF) macaque monkeys that are free of common retroviruses that can interfere with AIDS experiments and other types of research. SPF colonies are currently established by raising infants without their non-SPF mothers. Therefore, key to the long-term success of establishing and maintaining these SPF colonies is to develop efficacious strategies for raising infant monkeys in ways which minimize the emergence of behavioral pathologies due to social deprivation of their mothers and which will lead to the development of social competence. Such strategies are crucial to the long-term health and success of these colonies for two reasons: (1) social competence of individuals is critical for promoting social stability in groups, which optimizes overall colony reproductive success and (2) nursery-reared individuals develop different psychological, physiological and immunological responses than their mother-peer reared counterparts, which could interfere with and thus confound the studies to which these animals are assigned. Two key features appear to be most critical for infants in developing proper social and coping skills, minimizing abnormal behavior and developing appropriate physiological and immunological systems: (1) an appropriate and secure attachment figure which provides species specific sensory stimulation and (2) unambiguous response-contingent relationships during interactions with the attachment figure (mother or surrogate) and peers that permit infants some control over and predictability and feedback from their environment. We propose to utilize these two critical features in developing and testing a new set of nursery-rearing strategies that will maximize the development of coping skills and social competence, minimize abnormal behavior and enhance physiological and immunological potency in nursery-reared SPF rhesus macaques. The proposed study will lead to the development of an interactive surrogate-peer rearing design that will provide both an attachment figure to the infant as well as response-contingency relationships with the attachment figure (surrogate) and peers. Providing these features during early development should result in nursery-reared infants with more normal social, motor, perceptual and cognitive skills than nursery-reared infants without these features. Infants raised to be more similar to their mother-peer reared counterparts will provide investigators with a better biomedical model as well as the development of more socially competent individuals in social groups for breeding subsequent generations of SPF animals. Both of these outcomes address two of the three R's, reduction and refinement, and enhances the welfare of the rhesus population both on an individual basis and the colony as a whole. With further research as an R24, this research could lead to a patentable product for use at this and other NPRCs and primate facilities. This research could also lead to significant basic research as an R01 on the necessary and sufficient conditions required for normal infant social, motor, perceptual and cognitive development that would be applicable to child health and human development. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: The relevance of this proposed research to human health is two-fold. First, this research will lead to the improvement of the rhesus macaque as a biomedical model which is the leading model at primate centers for investigating human health issues. Second, this research will lead to future projects that will directly enhance human health by providing a deeper understanding of the features of caretakers that are necessary during early development to promote psychological health and well-being in humans throughout life.
Effective start/end date8/1/085/31/11


  • National Institutes of Health: $188,750.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $226,500.00


Macaca mulatta
Specific Pathogen-Free Organisms
Psychological Adaptation
Surrogate Mothers
Human Development
Child Development
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
Research Personnel
Social Skills


  • Medicine(all)