NEWS | June 29, 2012

Internationally renowned neuroscientist joins UC Davis MIND Institute


Jacqueline N. Crawley, one of the world's foremost researchers in behavioral neuroscience and a leading investigator using mouse models to develop novel, targeted treatments for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, joins the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine and UC Davis MIND Institute in July as the Robert E. Chason Chair in Translational Research.

Crawley comes to UC Davis from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Intramural Research Program, where she led a large behavioral neuroscience laboratory. She is the recipient of numerous national and international awards and honors, including the Distinguished Investigator Award of the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society; the Special Achievement Award of the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Institute of Mental Health Director's Award; and the Marjorie A. Myers Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society. 

Jackie Crawley ©
Jackie Crawley

Crawley said that she chose to join the faculty at UC Davis because of the opportunity to work with outstanding MIND Institute researchers. 

"The MIND Institute is internationally famous for its groundbreaking clinical research into early diagnosis and behavioral interventions for very young children with autism, basic science research into the biological causes of autism, and clinical trials of novel therapeutics for autism and fragile X syndrome," Crawley said. "I look forward to many productive collaborations between with clinical experts at the MIND Institute. Opportunities at the MIND Institute to observe the specific and diverse features of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders will enhance our development of the most analogous mouse behavioral assays. In addition, I anticipate synergistic interactions with MIND Institute investigators pursuing clinical trials with pharmacological interventions."

Crawley currently is engaged in translational research that uses mice genetically engineered to have mutations associated with autism spectrum disorder. Her laboratory at the NIMH developed mouse behavioral assays that mirror the diagnostic symptoms of autism in humans. These behavioral measures are employed to test investigational medications for reversal of social abnormalities, communication deficits, repetitive behaviors and motor stereotypies in the mouse models that are relevant to the core features of autism.

Breakthrough research by Crawley and her colleagues published recently in the journal Science Translational Medicine found that an investigational compound reversed behaviors in two mouse models with behavioral traits that resemble two of the three core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. The drug successfully increased social interactions and decreased repetitive behaviors in the mouse models.

The work was a landmark achievement because, despite a validated increase in the prevalence of autism in the United States, now estimated at one in 88 children born today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no medications specifically developed to treat the condition. Symptoms frequently associated with autism are treated with a variety of medications designed for other neurodevelopmental or psychiatric diseases. For example, a study published earlier this year by the NIMH found that more than half of all school-aged children with autism in the U.S. used at least one psychotropic medication, such as antipsychotics to reduce aggression, stimulants to reduce hyperactive behavior, or mood-stabilizing medications for anxiety and depression.

The study by Crawley and her colleagues suggested that a single compound could effectively target multiple diagnostic symptoms in human subjects with autism.

"Dr. Crawley is one of the leading neuroscientists studying autism, and we are incredibly proud that she has chosen to join the faculty of the UC Davis MIND Institute," said Leonard Abbeduto, director of the MIND Institute. "She has created behavioral assays for documenting social impairment in mouse models of human disorders that are being used in laboratories around the world." 

"Her research provides the critical link between researchers working to discover the causes of autism and those working to develop biomedical treatments," Abbeduto continued. "We fully expect that Dr. Crawley will help to accelerate the pace of translating the findings of MIND Institute scientists into efficacious treatments for the core symptoms of autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders."

Crawley has held numerous leadership positions at the NIMH that included acting deputy director of the Intramural Research Program, chair of the Animal Care and Use Committee, and chair of the Women Scientists Committee. She has published more than 230 research articles, over 90 review articles, served as editor-in-chief of the journal Neuropeptides, and is the sole author of the widely used guidebook What's Wrong With My Mouse? Behavioral Phenotyping of Transgenic and Knockout Mice. In addition to her work at the NIMH, Crawley has held posts as adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Georgetown University School of Medicine and adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Crawley is a member of several journal editorial boards, including Autism Research, Behavioral Neuroscience, Behavioral Brain Research and Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. She is a member of numerous scientific societies, including the International Society for Autism Research, International Behavioral Neuroscience Society, Society for Neuroscience, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society, and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has served on many grant review panels, search committees and conference organizing committees.

"Extensive mouse behavioral testing space designed for our use on the Sacramento campus will increase our capacity to pursue a large number of preclinical drug studies," Crawley said. "We look forward to contributing our strength in mouse models of autism as the translational bridge between ongoing molecular and clinical autism research. Further, collaborations are envisioned for sharing our mouse behavioral expertise with investigators throughout the UC Davis research community."

Crawley's School of Medicine faculty appointment will be in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Joining Crawley as adjunct assistant professors at UC Davis will be two colleagues from her laboratory at the National Institutes of Mental Health, Jill Silverman and Mu Yang, both outstanding behavioral neuroscientists working with mouse models of autism to discover therapeutic interventions.

Crawley received her undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and received her doctoral degree in zoology from the University of Maryland. She conducted postdoctoral work in neuropsychopharmacology at the Yale University School of Medicine.

At the UC Davis MIND Institute, world-renowned scientists engage in research to find improved treatments as well as the causes and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fragile X syndrome, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, pharmacology and behavioral sciences are making inroads into a better understanding of brain function. The UC Davis MIND Institute draws from these and other disciplines to conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research. For more information, visit