A joint US-China study has engineered macaque monkeys to express a mutation linked to autism and other human neurodevelopmental disorders. The monkey showed certain behavioural traits similar to humans with the condition.

Autism is a strongly genetic disorder with hundreds of identified relevant variants, which each confer a small amount of risk. For the new study only one gene was focused on, Shank3.

So far mouse models of Autism Spectrum Disorder have not been highly successful due to neural and behavioural differences from humans. Primate models are much closer to humans, particularly around brain structure. The decision-making pre-frontal cortex in non-human primates, for example, is well-developed, making those primates potentially ideal for simulating certain brain diseases.

Guoping Feng, a scientist involved in the study, said the new model type could help develop better neurodevelopmental disorder treatments in the future.