The tree shrew as a model for infectious diseases research
Despite major advances in medicine, infectious diseases still pose a significant threat to humanity. Mammalian models of disease have proved extremely useful in adding to the understanding of infectious diseases and the development of prophylactic and/or therapeutic interventions. Arguably the most important considerations of any animal model are (I) the similarity of the model to humans with respect to anatomy, physiology, immunology and disease progression, and (II) the expense of conducting experiments using the model organism. Often the choice of a model represents a compromise between these factors. Here we review the Northern Tree shrew (Tupaia belangeri), or tupaia, as a useful model for the study of infectious diseases. Tupaias are non-human primates similar in size to squirrels that are indigenous to Asia. Their genome has been sequenced and, overall, shows relatively high similarity to humans. There is also a close homology of many aspects of tupaia biology with human biology. Importantly, from an infectious diseases viewpoint, tupaias are susceptible to infection with unadapted human pathogens and manifest clinical signs akin to human infections. Overall, the relatively small size of the tupaia, their homology to humans and their susceptibility to human pathogens make them a useful model for the study of infectious diseases.