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Office of the Dean

NEWS | February 25, 2013

Neurobiologist Paul Patterson to give lecture on gut-brain-immune connections in autism

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

Neurobiologist Paul Patterson, the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, will discuss “Gut-Brain-Immune Connections: Modeling an Environmental Risk Factor for Autism,” during the next UC Davis MIND Institute Distinguished Lecturer Series presentation. 

The lecture will take place on Wednesday, March 13, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the MIND Institute auditorium at 2825 50th St., Sacramento. It is free and open to the public, and no reservations are required. 

Patterson will review his research team’s use of a mouse model of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk factor — maternal infection, or maternal immune activation (MIA) — to explore potential connections between gastrointestinal (GI) problems, the brain, and behavior. Adult offspring of mothers experiencing immune activation for one day during gestation display ASD behaviors. MIA offspring also display leaky gut, or decreased intestinal barrier integrity, and corresponding changes in levels of related proteins. Postnatal treatment with the human bacterium B. fragilis for one week permanently ameliorates these abnormalities and normalizes many of the ASD-related behaviors.

These results reinforce the potential relevance of the gut-brain axis for ASD, where manipulation of intestinal bacteria can influence GI physiology and behavioral performance. The findings also raise the possibility of testing a probiotic therapy in individuals with ASD and GI symptoms. A collaboration with researchers at the MIND Institute has recently validated the rodent MIA model using non-human primates.

Patterson graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa and holds a PhD in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University. A former Harvard Medical School neurobiology professor, he is co-author of The Origins of Schizophrenia and author of Infectious Behavior, an examination of the immune system in autism and schizophrenia. A member of the California Institute of Technology faculty since 1983, he serves on the scientific advisory boards of several foundations, including the International Rett Syndrome, John Douglas French Alzheimer’s, Autism Speaks, and Hereditary Disease foundations.

 Future Distinguished Lecturer Series speakers include:

  • Bradley L. Schlaggar of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discussing “Development of the Brain’s Functional Networks” on April 10
  • Craig Newschaffer, founding director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, explaining “Autism Outcomes and Risk Factors: What Can We Learn from Health Care Claims?” on May 8
  • Stephen Scherer of the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto on “Interpreting the Many Autism Risk Genes” on June 12

All Distinguished Lecturer Series presentations are free and open to the public, with no reservations required. The MIND Institute Resource Center, specializing in information and resources relating to neurodevelopmental disorders and related conditions, is open one hour before and 30 minutes after each presentation. 

The UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, Calif., was founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary research center where families, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers work together toward a common goal: researching causes, treatments and eventual preventions and cures for neurodevelopmental disorders. The institute has major research efforts in autism, fragile X syndrome, chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Down syndrome. More information about the institute and its Distinguished Lecturer Series, including previous presentations in this series, is available on the Web at mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.