Nonhuman Primate Studies to Advance Vision Science and Prevent Blindness

ILAR J. 2017 Dec 1;58(2):216-225. doi: 10.1093/ilar/ilx009.


Most primate behavior is dependent on high acuity vision. Optimal visual performance in primates depends heavily upon frontally placed eyes, retinal specializations, and binocular vision. To see an object clearly its image must be placed on or near the fovea of each eye. The oculomotor system is responsible for maintaining precise eye alignment during fixation and generating eye movements to track moving targets. The visual system of nonhuman primates has a similar anatomical organization and functional capability to that of humans. This allows results obtained in nonhuman primates to be applied to humans. The visual and oculomotor systems of primates are immature at birth and sensitive to the quality of binocular visual and eye movement experience during the first months of life. Disruption of postnatal experience can lead to problems in eye alignment (strabismus), amblyopia, unsteady gaze (nystagmus), and defective eye movements. Recent studies in nonhuman primates have begun to discover the neural mechanisms associated with these conditions. In addition, genetic defects that target the retina can lead to blindness. A variety of approaches including gene therapy, stem cell treatment, neuroprosthetics, and optogenetics are currently being used to restore function associated with retinal diseases. Nonhuman primates often provide the best animal model for advancing fundamental knowledge and developing new treatments and cures for blinding diseases.

Keywords: amblyopia; eye movement; gene therapy; optogenetics; primate; prosthetics; strabismus; visual system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blindness / prevention & control*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Optogenetics / methods
  • Primates
  • Strabismus / pathology
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology*