Foundation Mourns the Loss of Scientific Council Member Paul H. Patterson, Ph.D.

Paul H. Patterson, Ph.D.
Paul H. Patterson, Ph.D.

The Foundation mourns the loss of a pioneer in neuroimmunology—the study of interactions between the nervous and immune systems and their links to mental illnesses, such as autism, depression and schizophrenia. Dr. Paul Patterson, who was the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), died at his home on June 25, 2014. He was 70 years old.

Instead of relying primarily on genetic alterations to study behavioral models of these mental illnesses, Dr. Patterson studied the role of environmental triggers. He developed groundbreaking animal models of maternal immune activation, models that are now widely used by dozens of laboratories.

An article in The New York Times on August 25, 2012—“An Immune Disorder at the Root of Autism” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff—cited Dr. Patterson’s groundbreaking research: “The lesson here isn’t necessarily that viruses and bacteria directly damage the fetus. Rather, the mother’s attempt to repel invaders—her inflammatory response—seems at fault. Research by Paul Patterson, an expert in neuroimmunity at Caltech, demonstrates this important principle. Inflaming pregnant mice artificially—without a living infective agent—prompts behavioral problems in the young. In this model, autism results from collateral damage. It’s an unintended consequence of self-defense during pregnancy.”

Dr. Patterson is the author of the book “Infectious Behavior: Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia and Depression” and he wrote a blog entry to describing the book on Nov. 30, 2011: “… The heart of the book concerns the involvement of the immune systems of the pregnant woman and her fetus, and a consideration of maternal infection as a risk factor for schizophrenia and autism. … In the course of this discussion, I … explain how the immune system influences behavior, and how the brain regulates the immune system, looking in particular at stress and depression. Finally, I describe the promise shown by recent animal experiments that have led to early clinical trials of postnatal and adult treatments for patients with autism and related disorders.

"My association with the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, then known as NARSAD, started many years ago when I received the first of two grants to begin work on mental illness. These grants were particularly important to get projects going because the application did not require extensive preliminary results. This is unlike applications to the National Institutes of Health, where the research practically has to be already finished to get funding to do it!”

Dr. Patterson’s group also tested various types of gene therapy for treatment of mouse models of multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s disease, including novel viral vectors for delivery to the brain.

Dr. Patterson grew up in Chicago, attended Grinnell College in Iowa, and obtained his Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University in biochemistry. He then completed his postdoctoral appointment in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School before joining its faculty in 1973. Dr. Patterson joined Caltech as a biology professor in 1983 and became the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences in 2005.