Microbiota and the host immune system in autism

  • Autism Research
Speaker Dan Littman, M.D., Ph.D.
New York University School of Medicine
Date & Time


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 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.

About the Lecture

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.

About the Speaker

Dan Littman earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, completing a postdoctoral fellowship with Richard Axel at Columbia University. From Columbia, he moved to the University of California, San Francisco, where he  was professor of microbiology and immunology. Littman is now the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Professor of Molecular Immunology at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Past Lectures

Progress in understanding the genetic basis of mental health

Benjamin Neale, Ph.D.Associate Professor, Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital
Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Associated Researcher, Broad Institute

On May 6, 2020, Benjamin Neale discussed progress in mapping genetic risk factors for autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Autism, autisms, or neurodevelopmental disorders?

Jason Lerch, Ph.D.Director of Preclinical Imaging, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, University of Oxford
Adjunct Scientist, Mouse Imaging Centre, The Hospital for Sick Children
Associate Professor in Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto

On January 29, 2020, Jason Lerch explored this question: What do modern ways of looking at brains and genes tell us about autism – or autisms – and its relation to attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other related disorders of brain development?

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