NEWS | April 18, 2013

Immunological factors, genes, and the environment in autism

Seminar and online webcasts slated for June 1


The UC Davis MIND Institute will host an update for parents and health-care professionals on research exploring the growing body of evidence suggesting associations between environmental mechanisms, immunological susceptibility and autism on Saturday, June 1.

The UC Davis MIND Institute  The UC Davis MIND Institute

“Immunological Factors, Genes, and the Environment in Autism,” will be held in the MIND Institute auditorium at 2825 50th St., Sacramento. Physicians, other health-care professionals and parents are invited to attend in person or view the presentations via webcast. The event is a collaboration of the Autism Research Institute, the MIND Institute, and Autism Speaks.   

Research related to immunology has led to the discovery of autoantibodies targeting brain proteins, in both children with autism and their mothers. In particular, circulating maternal autoantibodies directed toward fetal brain proteins are highly specific for autism. This finding has great potential as a biomarker for autism risk, and might provide an avenue for future therapeutics and prevention. Additionally, data concerning the cellular immune system in children with autism suggest there might be a defect in the signaling pathways shared by the immune and central nervous systems.

The meeting also will focus on providing insight into the potential benefits of medical treatments designed to address environmentally triggered impairments.

“There is exciting research regarding the role of the immune system in autism spectrum disorders that may have profound implications for diagnosis and treatment of this disorder,” said  Judy Van de Water, professor of molecular biology and immunology in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

“We now have evidence of environmental exposures that may act through pathways common to both the immune and nervous systems.”

Van de Water will discuss new findings in biomarker research, including insights about immune-mediated disorders.

Reymundo Lozano, pediatric geneticist, will describe medical-treatment trials for autism taking place at the MIND Institute, and Pamela Lein, professor of molecular biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, will explore potential environmental risk-factors contributing to the incidence and severity of childhood autism.

Following the presentations the researchers will offer a live roundtable discussion including a question-and-answer session for audience members.

Free online pre-registration is required for both online and in-person attendees. Continuing medical education (CME) for medical professionals and general Continuing Education Units (CEU) are available for non-medical professionals for a processing fee. Presentations will be videotaped and uploaded for public viewing at a later date. Please visit the website,, for registration and more information on the event.

Since 1967, the Autism Research Institute has pioneered research, outreach, and cooperative efforts with other organizations worldwide with the goal of developing a standard of care for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families. For more information, visit

Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $195 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 95 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships and related activities in more than 40 countries on 5 continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit

At the UC Davis MIND Institute, world-renowned scientists engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research to find the causes of and develop treatments and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fragile X syndrome, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Down syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. For more information, visit