How immune cells help wire the brain: Implications for autism and psychiatric illness

  • Autism Research
Speaker Beth Stevens, Ph.D.
Boston Children's Hospital
Date & Time


Location

Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium
160 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10010 United States

Autism Research

Autism Research lectures bring together scientists and scholars to discuss diverse and important topics related to autism.

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On 2 November 2016, Beth Stevens discussed recent work that implicates brain immune cells, called microglia, in sculpting of synaptic connections during development and their relevance to autism, schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

Her talk was part of the Simons Foundation Autism Research lecture series.
 

About the Lecture

Recent research has revealed a key role for microglia and a group of immune-related molecules, called complement, in normal developmental synaptic pruning, a process required to establish precise brain wiring. Emerging evidence from Beth Stevens’ lab and others suggest aberrant regulation of this pruning pathway may contribute to synaptic and cognitive dysfunction in a host of brain disorders, including schizophrenia. Studies also suggest that a person’s risk of schizophrenia is increased if he or she inherits specific variants in complement C4, which plays a well-known role in the immune system but also helps sculpt developing synapses in the mouse visual system.

Together these findings may help explain known features of schizophrenia, including reduced numbers of synapses in key cortical regions and an adolescent age of onset that corresponds with developmentally timed waves of synaptic pruning in these regions. Stevens discussed this and ongoing work to understand the mechanisms by which complement and microglia prune specific synapses in the brain. A deeper understanding of how these immune mechanisms mediate synaptic pruning may provide novel insight into how to protect synapses in autism and other brain disorders.

About the Speaker

Beth Stevens is an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the Broad Institute. Her laboratory seeks to understand how neuron-glia communication facilitates the formation, elimination and plasticity of synapses during both healthy development and disease states. Stevens is a recipient of several young investigator awards, including the Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging; John Merck Scholar Program; Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers; and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Past Lectures

What do we mean by ‘autism risk genes’?

David Ledbetter, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Dascena

Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D.
Director, Seaver Autism Center
Professor, Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Genetics and Genomic Sciences
Vice Chair for Research and Vice Chair for Mentoring, Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Heather Mefford, M.D., Ph.D.
Full Member, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

David Ledbetter and Joseph Buxbaum discussed whether there are genes for which mutations confer risk specific to autism or whether these genes are really conferring general risk of disrupted brain development. The discussion was moderated by Heather Mefford.

Small molecules, genes and antisense oligonucleotides: Industry perspectives on treatment development for ASD

Federico Bolognani, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice President, Head of Clinical Science, Axial Therapeutics

Stuart Cobb, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer, Neurogene; Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Yael Weiss, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice President, Business Development, Ultragenyx

Randy Carpenter, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer, Rett Syndrome Research Trust; Co-Founder, Allos Pharma

Federico Bolognani, Stuart Cobb, and Yael Weiss joined a panel to discuss new industry developments on the use of small molecules, gene therapy and antisense oligonucleotides as treatment approaches for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The panel discussion was moderated by Randall Carpenter.

New research results from the Australian Autism Biobank study

Jake Gratten, Ph.D.Group Leader, Mater Research Institute, The University of Queensland
Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience
Naomi Wray, Ph.D.National Health and Medical Research Council Leadership Fellow – Group Leader, Institute for Molecular Bioscience
Affiliate Professor, Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland

Jake Gratten and Naomi Wray presented findings from the Australian Autism Biobank study, an initiative to establish an Australian resource of biospecimens, phenotypes and genomic data for autism research.

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