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Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Feb 15;53(4):284-91.

Heritability of fearful-anxious endophenotypes in infant rhesus macaques: a preliminary report.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.



Research efforts to discover the genetic underpinnings of anxiety and depression is challenging because of the etiologic heterogeneity inherent to these disorders. These efforts might be aided by the study of related behavioral phenotypes in model organisms, such as monkeys.


Eighty-five rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) from the Oregon National Primate Research Center were drawn from a standard matriarchal colony and tested for behavioral response in four testing paradigms designed to elicit fearful-anxious reactions. Heritabilities were estimated using variance component-based quantitative genetic analyses with much of the genetic information arising from paternal half-sibs.


Individual behaviors reflecting increased distress responses (e.g., vocalizations and teeth grinding) and behavioral inhibition (e.g., latency to leave mother, latency to inspect novel fruit) showed significant heritability, even though a small number of monkeys were assessed. Exploratory factor analyses identified seven clusters of behaviors across tests, some of which were found to be heritable.


These results indicate that several specific fearful-anxious behaviors in infant rhesus monkeys are heritable within this colony. Accordingly, these phenotypes, which are believed to represent the genetic liability for anxiety and depression, are good candidates for further genetic investigation in this population.

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