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Infectious Behavior: The Brain-Immune Connection

January 17, 2012 10 comments

The interconnectedness of the brain and immune system has become a fascinating new field of research, not only in autism but also schizophrenia and even depression. It can be complex stuff. But neurobiologist Paul Patterson, PhD, has produced a remarkably accessible and enjoyable book that intertwines history, case studies and laboratory science. He calls his slim but insightful volume Infectious Behavior: Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia and Depression.

Patterson is a professor of biological sciences at the California Institute of Technology and a research professor of neurological surgery at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. Readers of this blog may find his name and research interests familiar. Last month, we published a guest post from one of our Weatherstone Fellows who is launching her autism research career in his lab. There, Patterson and his junior colleagues are using mouse models to study how some types of maternal infection during pregnancy can increase the risk that a future child will develop autism. The research holds the potential for both deepening understanding of autism and leading to ways that pregnancy-related risks might be reduced.

Infectious Behavior explores new discoveries about the powerful biochemical communication that takes place between the brain and the immune system (which protects our bodies from infections and cancer). Patterson lets us listen in on some of this brain-immune “crosstalk,” and he explains how it can provide clues to the nature and causes of common but mysterious disorders of brain development and function. Some of this research, he argues, may shed light on today’s autism epidemic.

“Paul Patterson is attempting to describe a new field of study of which he himself is the leading pioneer,” writes Robert Freedman, MD, chair of psychiatry at the University of Colorado. “[His] efforts are unique in that they bridge the basic science and clinical world in a way that no other researcher in this field has done.”

It’s an engaging and thought-provoking read for nonscientists and scientists alike.

…More autism research news and perspective on the Science page.

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