NEWS | September 23, 2013

12th Annual UC Davis MIND Institute Distinguished Lecturer Series kicks off Oct. 9


The UC Davis MIND Institute begins the 12th year of its Distinguished Lecturer Series on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The venerable series’ presenters include nationally and internationally recognized researchers in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), fragile X-associated disorders and other neurodevelopmental conditions.

UC Davis MIND Institute UC Davis MIND Institute

Neuroimaging expert Susan Y. Bookheimer, the Joaquin Fuster Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the David Geffin School of Medicine at UCLA, will give the inaugural address for the 2013-2014 season on Wednesday, Oct. 9 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the MIND Institute, 2825 50th St., Sacramento. The title of Bookheimer’s presentation will be “Linking Genes, Brain and Behavior in Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is known to have a strong genetic component. However, little is known about how autism risk genes relate to brain differences found in individuals with ASD and the behavioral features of ASD. Bookheimer’s discussion will review some of the primary genetic pathways that have been identified in autism and present research on how these genes affect brain development, specifically brain connectivity. Using both activation and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Bookheimer and her colleagues have identified patterns of brain activation and connectivity associated with specific variations in common polymorphisms in autism risk genes.

Bookheimer will discuss three gene targets: the CNTAP gene, which confers risk for the language phenotype in ASD; the MET gene, which relates to processing socially relevant stimuli; and the Oxytocin gene, which relates to social motivation. Her address will describe how these genes affect brain activation and connectivity across diagnostic groups, and how some of these genes interact with an autism diagnosis.

Bookeheimer’s autism research uses fMRI to understand how differences in brain function give rise to the major symptoms of autism, such as deficits in language acquisition, social communication and joint attention. Her work integrates imaging with genetics to understand how autism risk genes alter the trajectory of abnormal brain development in autism. New analytic techniques, such as graph theory applied to functional connectivity data, suggest abnormal development of specific connectivity patterns including modularity and network efficiency that help to explain the cognitive and behavioral differences associated with autism phenotypes.

Bookheimer is principal investigator for the UCLA Autism Center of Excellence and site principal investigator for the Multimodal Development Neurogenetics of Females with Autism Spectrum Disorder Autism Center of Excellence Multi-site Network. She is a member of the International Society for Autism Research, and in 2013 was elected chair of the Council for the Organization for Human Brain Mapping. She has served on the National Institute of Mental Health Council Work Group on MRI Research Practices and the National Institutes of Health Working Group on Pediatric Imaging.

The Nov. 13 lecturer in this series will be James C. McPartland, assistant professor of child psychiatry and psychology and director of the Developmental Disabilities Clinic at the Yale University Child Study Center. His presentation is titled “Motivated for Change: Rethinking Models of Social Brain Development in Autism Spectrum Disorder.” 

Other Distinguished Lecturer Series speakers will include:

  • Dec. 11, Emory University Professor Stephanie Sherman will discuss "Fragile X-Associated Disorders: A Woman’s View from the Heart of the Family.”
  • Jan. 8: Massachusetts General Hospital’s Alessio Fasano discusses "Gut-Brain Interaction in Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Language Do They Speak, and Do They Understand Each Other?"
  • Feb. 12: David S. Mandell of the University of Pennsylvania Perlman School of Medicine will present "Context Matters: Implementing Evidence-Based Interventions for Children with Autism in Public Schools.”
  • March 12: Stewart H. Mostofsky of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University will discuss "Motor and Social Skill Function: Connecting Learning and Brain Function in Autism."

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 collaborate to study and treat autism and other 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, including previous presentations in its Distinguished Lecturer Series, is available on the Web at