Researchers say they’ve genetically engineered monkeys to display autism-like behaviors in a development that could advance what’s known about the developmental disorder and how to treat it.

Chinese scientists said in a paper published this week in the journal Nature that eight monkeys with the modified genetic makeup had normal cognitive abilities, but exhibited repetitive behaviors, increased anxiety and less social interaction, all hallmarks of autism.

What’s more, they passed this variation to their offspring who also showed reduced social interaction.

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“We think this transgenic monkey model provides a very unique model for studying human autism,” said Zilong Qiu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai who led the study.

Though numerous autism studies have focused on mice, researchers say that primates – who mature at a slower pace than rodents and are biologically more similar to humans – may offer greater promise for mimicking the complex symptoms of autism and testing possible treatments.

In this case, scientists inserted the MECP2 gene – which is associated with a childhood disorder that shares characteristics of autism – into eggs which were then fertilized and implanted in female macaque monkeys.

Qiu and his colleagues are now using brain imaging to determine which neural circuits were influenced by the genetic change established in the monkeys.