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In Memoriam: Paul Patterson, Pioneering Autism Researcher and Mentor

Advanced understanding of interactions between brain and immune system; fostered and inspired a new generation of autism researchers
June 27, 2014


Autism Speaks joins the global autism research community in mourning the passing of neurobiologist Paul Patterson. Dr. Patterson was a pioneer in the study of brain-immune system interactions and a mentor who trained and continues to inspire a new generation of autism researchers.

Dr. Patterson pursued research at the California Institute of Technology and directed Caltech’s joint MD/PhD programs with the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Southern California.

An enthusiastic supporter of Autism Speaks’ fellowship programs, Dr. Patterson contributed generously in reviewing fellowship projects and mentoring young scientists launching their careers in autism research.

He is also the author of the book Infectious Behavior: Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia and Depression.

Dr. Patterson’s Autism Speaks-funded research centered on a mouse model of autism whose behaviors stemmed from maternal infection during pregnancy. In 2013, he and Autism Speaks Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellow Elaine Hsiao published a landmark paper showing that an anti-inflammatory probiotic treatment eliminated autism-like behaviors in this animal model. He also mentored Autism Speaks Fellow Stephen Smith, who did early work showing how maternal infection during pregnancy produced inflammatory molecules that altered fetal brain development in ways that produced autism-like behaviors in mice.

"The autism field has lost an inspired mind and true research pioneer," says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Rob Ring.

Dr. Patterson’s longtime Caltech colleague David Anderson writes:

"Professor Patterson, like his uncle, Caltech geochemist Clair Patterson, was a pioneer and iconoclast who was not afraid to work outside the scientific mainstream and who consequently made a number of important and seminal contributions that opened up entire fields of research.  These include the discovery that even adult neurons can change their identity in response to environmental influences and that signaling molecules from the immune system have a profound impact on the developing and adult nervous system. The latter discovery in turn led Professor Patterson into the field of neuroimmunology, and his important recent discoveries about the link between maternal infection, cytokines and autism.  Dr. Patterson was also a committed teacher and mentor who inspired many Caltech undergraduates to enter careers in science."

Dr. Patterson died peacefully at home on June 25. He was 70 years old.