Development Begins Before Birth: Prenatal Research Relevant to Autism

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Simons Foundation Lectures are free public colloquia related to basic science and mathematics. These high-level talks are intended for professors, students, postdocs and business professionals, but interested people from the metropolitan area are welcome as well.
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The burgeoning research field known as the fetal origins of adult disease (FOAD) or the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHAD) demonstrates that maternal distress during pregnancy affects fetal and infant brain–behavior development. This is a ‘third pathway’ for the familial inheritance of psychiatric illness beyond shared genes and the quality of parental care, and one that, if fully understood, could lead to early prevention of developmental risk.

In this lecture, Dr. Catherine Monk will describe her lab’s FOAD studies that focus on women in the perinatal period and fetal and infant neurobehavioral development, including direct studies of the fetus, newborn brain imaging and placental methylation.

Applying the FOAD model to autism research introduces the possibility of identifying perinatal markers for the disorder and may help advance the animal and epidemiological findings showing that prenatal maternal immune activation — often a correlate of distress — is associated with risk for the illness.

About the Speaker

Catherine Monk holds a joint appointment as an associate professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, and Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of her research, she is affiliated with two divisions in psychiatry: behavioral medicine and developmental neuroscience. She is director for research at the Women’s Program, as well as co–director of the Sackler Parent–Infant Project and of the Domestic Violence Initiative. After completing her National Institutes of Health post–doctoral fellowship in the psychobiological sciences at Columbia in 2000, Dr. Monk joined the faculty and established the Perinatal Pathways Laboratory.

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