New findings by the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University have shown similarities between humans and monkeys, both with Huntington's disease, especially in regards to the decline in motor control.
Published in PLOS ONE, the study's aim was to try and develop a large animal model for Huntington's so that more accurate treatment experiments could be carried out in the future. While mouse models currently exist, it is difficult for researchers to look at certain aspects of the illness, and this nonhuman primate model would ensure further insight into cognition and fine motor control.
Lead author Anthony Chan, who is also associate professor of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine, said: "It was important to recapitulate progressive changes in clinical measurements, such as cognitive behaviors and neural anatomical changes as the Huntington's disease monkeys age. Our finding of similarity in clinical progression between human patients and Huntington's disease monkeys suggests monkeys could become a preclinical, large animal model for the development of new treatments."
As part of the study, three male rhesus macaques had been examined from 16 months of age, all of which were carrying a gene encoding a fragment of mutant human huntingtin. Through brain imaging, signs of neurodegeneration were seen as quickly as 24 months, allowing scientists to monitor disease progression over a lengthy period.
Some of the tests carried out on the monkeys included an 'object retrieval' where the animals had to pick up a piece of M&M candy from a transparent box that is open on one side, and a 'fine motor task' where a piece of candy had to be freed by moving it along a bent metal rod. The monkey brains were examined through MRI systems throughout the entire study.
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