Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Monkeys in space


Several groups have developed brain-machine-interfaces (BMIs) that allow primates to use cortical activity to control artificial limbs. Yet, it remains unknown whether cortical ensembles could represent the kinematics of whole-body navigation and be used to operate a BMI that moves a wheelchair continuously in space. Here we show that rhesus monkeys can learn to navigate a robotic wheelchair, using their cortical activity as the main control signal. Two monkeys were chronically implanted with multichannel microelectrode arrays that allowed wireless recordings from ensembles of premotor and sensorimotor cortical neurons. Initially, while monkeys remained seated in the robotic wheelchair, passive navigation was employed to train a linear decoder to extract 2D wheelchair kinematics from cortical activity. Next, monkeys employed the wireless BMI to translate their cortical activity into the robotic wheelchair’s translational and rotational velocities. Over time, monkeys improved their ability to navigate the wheelchair toward the location of a grape reward. The navigation was enacted by populations of cortical neurons tuned to whole-body displacement. During practice with the apparatus, we also noticed the presence of a cortical representation of the distance to reward location. These results demonstrate that intracranial BMIs could restore whole-body mobility to severely paralyzed patients in the future.

Concepts: Old World monkey, Monkeys in space, Brain, Macaque, Velocity, Rhesus Macaque, Cerebral cortex, Primate


It was recently shown that rhythmic entrainment, long considered a human-specific mechanism, can be demonstrated in a selected group of bird species, and, somewhat surprisingly, not in more closely related species such as nonhuman primates. This observation supports the vocal learning hypothesis that suggests rhythmic entrainment to be a by-product of the vocal learning mechanisms that are shared by several bird and mammal species, including humans, but that are only weakly developed, or missing entirely, in nonhuman primates. To test this hypothesis we measured auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) in two rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), probing a well-documented component in humans, the mismatch negativity (MMN) to study rhythmic expectation. We demonstrate for the first time in rhesus monkeys that, in response to infrequent deviants in pitch that were presented in a continuous sound stream using an oddball paradigm, a comparable ERP component can be detected with negative deflections in early latencies (Experiment 1). Subsequently we tested whether rhesus monkeys can detect gaps (omissions at random positions in the sound stream; Experiment 2) and, using more complex stimuli, also the beat (omissions at the first position of a musical unit, i.e. the ‘downbeat’; Experiment 3). In contrast to what has been shown in human adults and newborns (using identical stimuli and experimental paradigm), the results suggest that rhesus monkeys are not able to detect the beat in music. These findings are in support of the hypothesis that beat induction (the cognitive mechanism that supports the perception of a regular pulse from a varying rhythm) is species-specific and absent in nonhuman primates. In addition, the findings support the auditory timing dissociation hypothesis, with rhesus monkeys being sensitive to rhythmic grouping (detecting the start of a rhythmic group), but not to the induced beat (detecting a regularity from a varying rhythm).

Concepts: Meter, Old World monkey, Macaque, Monkeys in space, Rhesus Macaque, Rhythm, Mammal, Primate


Like humans, monkeys value information about sex and status, inviting the hypothesis that our susceptibility to these factors in advertising arises from shared, ancestral biological mechanisms that prioritize social information. To test this idea, we asked whether rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) show choice behavior that is similar to humans in response to sex and social status in advertising. Our results show that monkeys form preferences for brand logos repeatedly paired with images of macaque genitals and high status monkeys. Moreover, monkeys sustain preferences for these brand logos even though choosing them provided no tangible rewards, a finding that cannot be explained by a decision mechanism operating solely on material outcomes. Together, our results endorse the hypothesis that the power of sex and status in advertising emerges from the spontaneous engagement of shared, ancestral neural circuits that prioritize information useful for navigating the social environment. Finally, our results show that simple associative conditioning is sufficient to explain the formation of preferences for brand logos paired with sexual or status-based images.

Concepts: Social status, Sociology, Choice, Cercopithecine monkeys, Monkeys in space, Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Primate


Face perception in humans and nonhuman primates is rapid and accurate [1-4]. In the human brain, a network of visual-processing regions is specialized for faces [5-7]. Although face processing is a priority of the primate visual system, face detection is not infallible. Face pareidolia is the compelling illusion of perceiving facial features on inanimate objects, such as the illusory face on the surface of the moon. Although face pareidolia is commonly experienced by humans, its presence in other species is unknown. Here we provide evidence for face pareidolia in a species known to possess a complex face-processing system [8-10]: the rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta). In a visual preference task [11, 12], monkeys looked longer at photographs of objects that elicited face pareidolia in human observers than at photographs of similar objects that did not elicit illusory faces. Examination of eye movements revealed that monkeys fixated the illusory internal facial features in a pattern consistent with how they view photographs of faces [13]. Although the specialized response to faces observed in humans [1, 3, 5-7, 14] is often argued to be continuous across primates [4, 15], it was previously unclear whether face pareidolia arose from a uniquely human capacity. For example, pareidolia could be a product of the human aptitude for perceptual abstraction or result from frequent exposure to cartoons and illustrations that anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Instead, our results indicate that the perception of illusory facial features on inanimate objects is driven by a broadly tuned face-detection mechanism that we share with other species.

Concepts: Human, Old World monkey, Brain, Macaque, Monkeys in space, Rhesus Macaque, Perception, Primate


Primates (including humans) scratch when stressed. So far, such scratching has been seen as a by-product of physiological processes associated with stress, and attributed proximate, regulatory function. However, it is possible that others could use this relationship between scratching and stress as an indication of the animal’s stress state, and thus scratching could potentially have social function. As a test of this theory, we measured the production of, and social responses to scratching in a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Firstly, we found that the likelihood of scratching was greater around periods of heightened social stress, such as being in proximity to high-ranking individuals, or non-friends. Secondly, when macaques scratched, subsequent interactions were less likely to be aggressive and more likely to be affiliative. Potential attackers may avoid attacking stressed individuals as stressed individuals could behave unpredictably or be weakened by their state of stress (rendering aggression risky and/or unnecessary). Observable stress behaviour could therefore have additional adaptive value by reducing the potential for escalated aggression, benefiting both senders and receivers by facilitating social cohesion. This basic ability to recognise stress in others could also be an important component in the evolution of social cognition such as empathy.

Concepts: Cercopithecine monkeys, Monkeys in space, Old World monkey, Psychology, Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Sociology, Primate


We grafted human spinal cord-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs) into sites of cervical spinal cord injury in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Under three-drug immunosuppression, grafts survived at least 9 months postinjury and expressed both neuronal and glial markers. Monkey axons regenerated into grafts and formed synapses. Hundreds of thousands of human axons extended out from grafts through monkey white matter and synapsed in distal gray matter. Grafts gradually matured over 9 months and improved forelimb function beginning several months after grafting. These findings in a ‘preclinical trial’ support translation of NPC graft therapy to humans with the objective of reconstituting both a neuronal and glial milieu in the site of spinal cord injury.

Concepts: Synapse, Rhesus Macaque, Central nervous system, Grafting, Monkeys in space, Spinal cord, Primate, Neuron


Caloric restriction (CR) without malnutrition increases longevity and delays the onset of age-associated disorders in short-lived species, from unicellular organisms to laboratory mice and rats. The value of CR as a tool to understand human ageing relies on translatability of CR’s effects in primates. Here we show that CR significantly improves age-related and all-cause survival in monkeys on a long-term ~30% restricted diet since young adulthood. These data contrast with observations in the 2012 NIA intramural study report, where a difference in survival was not detected between control-fed and CR monkeys. A comparison of body weight of control animals from both studies with each other, and against data collected in a multi-centred relational database of primate ageing, suggests that the NIA control monkeys were effectively undergoing CR. Our data indicate that the benefits of CR on ageing are conserved in primates.

Concepts: Simian, Monkeys in space, Rodent, Human, Old World monkey, Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Primate


Tonic gonadotrophin secretion throughout the menstrual cycle is regulated by the negative feedback actions of ovarian oestradiol (E(2) ) and progesterone (P). While kisspeptin neurones in the arcuate nucleus (ARC) of the hypothalamus appear to play a major role in mediating these feedback actions of the steroids in non-primate species, this issue has been less well studied in the monkey. Here, we used immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization (ISH) to examine kisspeptin and KISS1 expression, respectively, in the mediobasal hypothalamus (MBH) of adult ovariectomised (OVX) rhesus monkeys. We also examined kisspeptin expression in the MBH of ovarian intact females, and the effect of E(2) , P and E(2) +P replacement on KISS1 expression in OVX animals. Kisspeptin or KISS1 expressing neurons and pronounced kisspeptin fibres were readily identified throughout the ARC of ovariectomised monkeys, but in intact animals on the other hand kisspeptin cell bodies were small in size and number and only fine fibers were observed. Replacement of OVX monkeys with physiologic levels of E(2) , either alone or with luteal phase levels of P, abolished KISS1 expression in the ARC. Interestingly, P replacement alone for 14 days also resulted in a significant downregulation of KISS1 expression. These findings support the view that, in primates, as in rodents and sheep, kisspeptin signaling in ARC neurones appears to play an important role in mediating the negative feedback action of E(2) on gonadotrophin secretion, and indicate a need to further study their regulation by P. © 2013 British Society for Neuroendocrinology.

Concepts: Corpus luteum, Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Puberty, Monkeys in space, Menstrual cycle, Hypothalamus, Primate


Optogenetic studies in mice have revealed new relationships between well-defined neurons and brain functions. However, there are currently no means to achieve the same cell-type specificity in monkeys, which possess an expanded behavioral repertoire and closer anatomical homology to humans. Here, we present a resource for cell-type-specific channelrhodopsin expression in Rhesus monkeys and apply this technique to modulate dopamine activity and monkey choice behavior. These data show that two viral vectors label dopamine neurons with greater than 95% specificity. Infected neurons were activated by light pulses, indicating functional expression. The addition of optical stimulation to reward outcomes promoted the learning of reward-predicting stimuli at the neuronal and behavioral level. Together, these results demonstrate the feasibility of effective and selective stimulation of dopamine neurons in non-human primates and a resource that could be applied to other cell types in the monkey brain.

Concepts: Cell, Human, Old World monkey, Dopamine, Monkeys in space, Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Primate


Among mammals, individuals form strong social bonds preferentially with their kin. Differences in these relationships are linked to differential kin availability due to sex-specific dispersal patterns, but there is some indication that differential bonding among sexes already occurs prior to maturation. However, little is known about how these patterns arise during individual development. Here we investigated sex differences in the development of mother-offspring bonds in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Our results revealed that mothers showed sex-biased bonding toward their offspring. Sons had a distinctly higher probability of receiving aggression from their mothers than did daughters in the first year of life, while no differences were found with respect to affiliative interactions. After the first year, probabilities of all affiliative and aggressive behaviours investigated were higher for daughters than for sons, although generally declining. Furthermore, sons spending less time with their mother and receiving more maternal aggression tended to disperse earlier. The results of our study suggest that mothers influence their bonding strength with offspring by interacting less affiliative with sons than daughters.

Concepts: Monkeys in space, Family, Mother, Sex, Aggression, Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Primate