Autism is a complex developmental disability which affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. To increase our understanding on the causes of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and accelerate the discovery of treatment strategies, researchers at this center study how environmental exposures to toxins interact with a person's genes and immune system to influence the risk and severity of autism.
The center's research focuses on the roles of environmental factors, genes, and the immune system in a person's susceptibility to autism. Through both epidemiological and rodent models, the center's scientists are looking into how environmental triggers affect brain development. They are also examining how biological markers, such as those related to immune system dysfunction, could help clarify why some children develop these disorders. Hypotheses being tested include whether disorders such as autism are related to exposure to a wide range of environmental toxicants including methylmercury and halogenated organics (Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). Ultimately, their aim is to improve autism diagnosis and treatment and better inform the public about managing and preventing developmental disorders such as autism. This center is co-funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.