Understanding Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders: From the Embryo to Brain Organoids

  • Speaker
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPaola Arlotta, Ph.D.Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology , Harvard University
Date & Time

About Simons Foundation Lectures

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.
The cellular and molecular processes that control brain development in mammals, as well as how neurodevelopmental disorders affect such processes, remain poorly understood. The recent advent of brain organoids (lab-grown clusters of living neurons) offers new ways to study the relationships between neurodevelopmental disorders and brain development.
In this lecture, Paola Arlotta will focus on the cerebral cortex and present the challenges and opportunities of modeling human brain development using pluripotent stem cells within 3D human brain organoids. Building on developmental work in mice, such organoids promise a better understanding of complex neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder. She will discuss her recent work on the generation and long-term development of human brain organoids and the study of their developmental trajectories, cellular diversities and neuronal network features.
She will then show that phenotypic abnormalities observed in patients carrying genetic mutations linked to autism spectrum disorder can be reproduced within brain organoids. This work serves as a proof-of-principle demonstration that selected aspects of human neurodevelopmental conditions can be modeled in vitro with the goal of better understanding disease genetics and pathology.

About the Speaker


Paola Arlotta is a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University. She is a principal faculty member at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, where she is co-director of the neuroscience program, an institute member at the Broad Institute, and an associate member of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute. She is interested in understanding the molecular laws that govern the birth, differentiation and assembly of the human brain’s cerebral cortex. The complexity of the brain fascinates her and she is driven to integrate developmental and evolutionary knowledge to investigate therapies for brain repair and for modeling neuropsychiatric disease. Arlotta received her M.S. in biochemistry from the University of Trieste, Italy, and her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Portsmouth in the UK. She subsequently completed her postdoctoral training in neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.

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