Objective: At present, rodents represent the most common animal model for research in obesity and its comorbidities (e.g., type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease), however, there are several physiological and developmental differences between rodents and humans reflective of their relatively ancient evolutionary divergence (approximately 65 to 75 million years ago). Therefore, we are currently developing the baboon as a nonhuman primate model for the study of the genetics of obesity.
Research methods and procedures: At present, we are collecting extensive phenotypic data in a large pedigreed colony (N > 2000) of baboons housed at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas. The long-term goal of this project is to identify genes influencing adiposity-related phenotypes and to test hypotheses regarding their pleiotropic effects on other phenotypes related to increased risk for a variety of common diseases (e.g., coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes).
Results: To date we have obtained various adipose-specific endocrine measures, adipose tissue biopsies, and estimates of body composition on a substantial portion of our pedigreed colony. The pattern of adipose tissue accumulation follows closely that seen in humans, and we have detected significant additive genetic heritabilities for these obesity-related phenotypes.
Discussion: Given the physiological and developmental similarities between humans and baboons, along with the ability to collect data under well-controlled situations and the extensive pedigree data available in our colony, the baboon offers an extremely valuable nonhuman primate model for the study of obesity and its comorbidities.