Maternal immune activation in nonhuman primates alters social attention in juvenile offspring

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 May 1;77(9):823-32. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.07.035. Epub 2014 Aug 30.


Background: Sickness during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of offspring neurodevelopmental disorders. Rodent models have played a critical role in establishing causal relationships and identifying mechanisms of altered brain and behavior development in pups prenatally exposed to maternal immune activation (MIA). We recently developed a novel nonhuman primate model to bridge the gap between human epidemiological studies and rodent models of prenatal immune challenge. Our initial results demonstrated that rhesus monkeys given the viral mimic synthetic double-stranded RNA (polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid stabilized with poly-l-lysine) during pregnancy produce offspring with abnormal repetitive behaviors, altered communication, and atypical social interactions.

Methods: We utilized noninvasive infrared eye tracking to further evaluate social processing capabilities in a subset of the first trimester MIA-exposed offspring (n = 4) and control animals (n = 4) from our previous study.

Results: As juveniles, the MIA offspring differed from control animals on several measures of social attention, particularly when viewing macaque faces depicting the fear grimace facial expression. Compared with control animals, MIA offspring had a longer latency before fixating on the eyes, had fewer fixations directed at the eyes, and spent less total time fixating on the eyes of the fear grimace images.

Conclusions: In the rhesus monkey model, exposure to MIA at the end of the first trimester results in abnormal gaze patterns to salient social information. The use of noninvasive eye tracking extends the findings from rodent MIA models to more human-like behaviors resembling those in both autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders; Immunology; Macaque; Nonhuman primate; Poly IC; Schizophrenia; Social attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention* / physiology
  • Biomimetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Eye Movements
  • Facial Recognition* / physiology
  • Female
  • Individuality
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • RNA, Double-Stranded
  • Social Behavior*
  • Virus Diseases / physiopathology*


  • RNA, Double-Stranded