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Vet Med in Top Ten for Autism Research

January 2, 2013

January 3, 2013

The advocacy organization Autism Speaks has announced that several research findings of School of Veterinary Medicine faculty are included in the"Top 10 Autism Research Advances of 2012." 

In the Top-10 category of "Deeper Understanding of Link between Chemical Pollutants and Autism," the organization highlighted scientific articles by School of Veterinary Medine faculty as major steps forward in autism research. The work was performed through the Center for Children's Environmental Health and in collaboration with faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine.

School of Veterinary Medicine scientists made major contributions to the following articles:

Shelton JF, Hertz-Picciotto I, Pessah IN. Tipping the Balance of Autism Risk: Potential Mechanisms Linking Pesticides and Autism. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120(7): 944–951. The paper explores potential pathways by which pesticide exposure during pregnancy might contribute to autism, focusing on focusing on neuroexcitability, oxidative stress, and immune functions.

Wayman GA, Yang D, Bose DD, et al. PCB-95 Promotes Dendritic Growth via Ryanodine Receptor–Dependent Mechanisms.  Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120(7): 997–1002. Researchers identifed a polychlorinated biphenyl as a possible environmental risk factor in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Wayman GA, Bose DD, Yang D, et al. PCB-95 Modulates the Calcium-Dependent Signaling Pathway Responsible for Activity-Dependent Dendritic Growth. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120(7): 1003–1009. The scientists' observations add to the emerging experimental evidence supporting calcium-signaling molecules as possible convergence points forenvironmental factors and genetic variants linked to the risk of autism spectrum disorders.

Mitchell MM, Woods R, Chi LH, et al. Levels of select PCB and PBDE congeners in human postmortem brain reveal possible environmental involvement in 15q11-q13 duplication autism spectrum disorder. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2012; 53(8): 589-98. In the first investigation of its kind, scientists explored the relationship between persistent organic pollutant levels and genetic patterns in individuals with and without neurodevelopmental disorders. 

A fifth paper was inspired by a center project called Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE), launched in 2003 by the center as the first comprehensive study of environmental causes and risk factors for autism and developmental delay. This study investigated possible links between air pollution particles and the brain:

Volk HE, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R. Traffic-Related Air Pollution, Particulate Matter, and Autism. Arch Gen Psychiatry. Nov 2012. In this study, the authors found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life was associated with autism. Further examinations of likely biological pathways will help determine whether these associations are causal.

Finally, a paper evaluating scientific approaches to autism referred to the work of the Center for Children's Environmental Health and urged further research into undiscovered links between neurodevelopmental disorders and the thousands of chemicals used in the United States:

Landrigan PJ, Lambertini L, Birnbaum LS.
A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120(7): a258–a260.

The Autism Speaks announcement is available online at:

Autism Speaks is a science and advocacy organization dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. The School of Veterinary Medicine also made the Top 10 list for 2010 for research that indicates a greater incidence of mitochondrial dysfunction in children with autism. (See related story)

The Center for Children's Environmental Health, established in 2002, is a joint effort of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the University of California, Davis. The center's scientists study the effects of the environment on children's health, with a particular focus on autism. Researchers come from all fields including molecular biology, medicine, nutrition, psychology, animal behavior, and genetics. The center is led by two professors, Isaac Pessah, PhD, of the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Irva Hertz-Picciotto, MD, MPH, based in the School of Medicine.


Isaac N. Pessah, Department of Molecular Biosciences, (530) 752-6696,