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.
On 29 October 2014, Dan Littman described how intestinal bacteria affect immune system cell functioning, potentially contributing to systemic inflammation and autism.
His talk was part of the Simons Foundation Autism Research lecture series.
Our immune system is heavily influenced by microbiota — the microbes that reside within us. In the intestine, specific microbes induce pro- or anti-inflammatory white blood cells called lymphocytes that maintain a healthy homeostasis. An imbalance of microbiota can result in dysregulated immune cells that contribute to autoimmunity and autism.
In this lecture, Dan Littman described how intestinal bacteria shape the part of the immune system that prevents invasion by harmful microbes, but they can also contribute to systemic inflammation. The bacteria regulate Th17 cells, which participate in multiple autoimmune diseases. These cells play a key role in the maternal immune activation model of autism. Activation of the pregnant mother’s innate immune response may result in lifelong behavioral defects in the child. Through this lens, Littman discussed implications for preventing or treating autism.