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. The lectures are open to the public and are held at the Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium at the Simons Foundation headquarters in New York City. Tea is served prior to each lecture.

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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

Altered somatosensory processing in autism spectrum disorders: Mechanisms and emerging therapeutic opportunities

David Ginty, Ph.D.Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard University

On April 24, 2019, David Ginty presented his work on the neurobiological basis of touch over-reactivity in mouse models of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He also discussed new pharmacological approaches aimed at reducing sensory over-reactivity and potentially improving cognitive and behavioral abnormalities associated with ASD.

Mapping human cerebral cortex: Structure, function, connectivity, development and evolution

David Van Essen, Ph.D.Alumni Endowed Professor, Washington University in St. Louis

On April 3, 2019, David Van Essen provided an overview of basic principles of cortical organization and connectivity from studies of laboratory animals and analyses of individual variability in humans. He also highlighted a new map (‘parcellation’) of the human cerebral cortex based on data from the Human Connectome Project.

The genetic influences on autism spectrum disorder risk

Elise Robinson, Sc.D.Assistant Professor, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Associate Member, Broad Institute

On January 30, 2019, Elise Robinson provided an overview of the role that genetic factors play in autism spectrum disorders and discussed the next steps to further understand autism genetics.

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