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Metabolomic Phenotyping Validates the Infant Rhesus Monkey as a Model of Human Infant Metabolism

O'Sullivan, Aifric*; He, Xuan; McNiven, Elizabeth M.S.; Hinde, Katie; Haggarty, Neill W.§; Lönnerdal, Bo; Slupsky, Carolyn M.*,†

Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: April 2013 - Volume 56 - Issue 4 - p 355–363
doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e31827e1f07
Original Articles: Hepatology and Nutrition

Objectives: Rhesus macaque monkeys are widely used as models for human physiology and behavior. They are particularly suited for studies on infant nutrition and metabolism; however, few studies have directly compared their metabolic or microbiological phenotypes. The aim of the present study was to compare the metabolomic profiles and microbiome of milk from human and rhesus mothers, and the metabolomic profiles of urine and serum from human and rhesus infants to establish the value of this model for human nutrition research.

Methods: Milk samples were collected from rhesus and human mothers at similar stages of lactation. Urine and serum samples were collected from breast-fed rhesus and human infants. 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectra were acquired for all samples and metabolites were identified and quantified using targeted profiling techniques. The microbial community structure of milk was examined using 16S rRNA gene sequencing.

Results: An identical set of metabolites was identified in the urine and serum profiles from human and rhesus infants. In urine, 65% of the metabolites were present at similar concentrations, whereas ∼40% were similar in serum. The gross composition of human and rhesus milk was comparable, including the overall microbial community at both the phylum and order level; however, some oligosaccharides found in human milk were not present in monkey milk.

Conclusions: Comparison of the milk microbiome and urine, serum, and milk metabolome of rhesus macaques and humans has revealed substantial similarities that provide unique biological information highlighting the significance of rhesus macaques as a model for infant nutrition and developmental research.

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*Department of Food Science and Technology

Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, CA

Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

§Fonterra Ingredients Innovation, Fonterra Co-operative Group, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Carolyn M. Slupsky, Department of Nutrition, One Shields Avenue, University of California, Davis, CA 95616 (e-mail:

Received 21 August, 2012

Accepted 14 November, 2012

This research was supported by Fonterra Ingredients Innovation, Fonterra Co-operative Group, Palmerston North, New Zealand. N.W.H. is an employee of Fonterra Ingredients Innovation. Rhesus macaque milk sample collection supported by NSF BCS-0921978 to K.H.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Website (

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Copyright 2013 by ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN