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Strength of nonhuman primate studies of developmental programming: review of sample sizes, challenges, and steps for future work

  • Hillary F. Huber (a1), Susan L. Jenkins (a1), Cun Li (a1) (a2) and Peter W. Nathanielsz (a1) (a2)


Nonhuman primate (NHP) studies are crucial to biomedical research. NHPs are the species most similar to humans in lifespan, body size, and hormonal profiles. Planning research requires statistical power evaluation, which is difficult to perform when lacking directly relevant preliminary data. This is especially true for NHP developmental programming studies, which are scarce. We review the sample sizes reported, challenges, areas needing further work, and goals of NHP maternal nutritional programming studies. The literature search included 27 keywords, for example, maternal obesity, intrauterine growth restriction, maternal high-fat diet, and maternal nutrient reduction. Only fetal and postnatal offspring studies involving tissue collection or imaging were included. Twenty-eight studies investigated maternal over-nutrition and 33 under-nutrition; 23 involved macaques and 38 baboons. Analysis by sex was performed in 19; minimum group size ranged from 1 to 8 (mean 4.7 ± 0.52, median 4, mode 3) and maximum group size from 3 to 16 (8.3 ± 0.93, 8, 8). Sexes were pooled in 42 studies; minimum group size ranged from 2 to 16 (mean 5.3 ± 0.35, median 6, mode 6) and maximum group size from 4 to 26 (10.2 ± 0.92, 8, 8). A typical study with sex-based analyses had group size minimum 4 and maximum 8 per sex. Among studies with sexes pooled, minimum group size averaged 6 and maximum 8. All studies reported some significant differences between groups. Therefore, studies with group sizes 3–8 can detect significance between groups. To address deficiencies in the literature, goals include increasing age range, more frequently considering sex as a biological variable, expanding topics, replicating studies, exploring intergenerational effects, and examining interventions.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Hillary F. Huber, Texas Pregnancy & Life-Course Health Research Center, Herff Building 13, Texas Biomedical Research Institute, P.O. Box 760549, San Antonio, TX 78245-0549, USA. Email:


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Institution at which work was performed: Southwest National Primate Research Center, San Antonio, TX, USA.



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