Immune-Environment Interactions

Although autism spectrum disorders (ASD) primarily affect brain function, our lab has identified widespread changes in the immune system of children with ASD, both at the systemic and cellular levels. Characterization of the relationship between the immune and neuronal systems and their synergy with respect to environmental exposure is key to understanding the mechanisms through which toxicants can alter neurodevelopment. Ca2+ dependent signaling, for example through the mTOR pathway, is common to both the neural and immune systems. Our examination converges on specific neuro and immune-modulatory effects, implicating mTOR pathways, following ex vivo exposure of cells to congeners of PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). The overarching goal of this project is to test the hypotheses that the maternal PBDE body burden during pregnancy is associated with immune dysregulation and that children with ASD have increased sensitivity to PBDE exposure.