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Int J Dev Neurosci. 2005 Apr-May;23(2-3):245-51.

Neuropeptides and non-human primate social deficits associated with pathogenic rearing experience.

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  • 1Non-Human Primate Neurobiology Core, Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Mental Health, Building NIHAC 110, Room 121, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


There is a persuasive evidence that autism is highly heritable and likely to be substantially determined by polygenic mechanisms. Nevertheless, some intriguing findings in children raised in conditions of extreme social deprivation suggest that an autistic-like syndrome may occur as a consequence of environmental conditions. A particularly close model of this human syndrome has been studied in rhesus monkeys for almost half a century. Monkeys reared in pathogenic rearing conditions manifest considerable deficits in social interaction and increased self-directed behaviors. We have been interested in the possibility that disruptions in normal social development in non-human primates might be expressed in neuropeptide systems which have emerged in rodent studies as important candidates for a unique social biology. In recent studies, we have described persistently reduced CSF OT levels in male rhesus monkeys with significant social deficits. We also found that OT levels were positively related to the expression of affiliative social behaviors. Alterations were also detected in both CRH and AVP receptor binding patterns in limbic structures likely to influence social and emotional development. Taken together, these data suggest that abnormal rearing influences the development of brain systems critical to normal social and emotional competence in rhesus monkeys and may contribute to the development of autistic-like symptomatology associated with pathogenic rearing histories.

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