NARSAD Grantee Seeks to Understand How Autism, Depression, Schizophrenia Develop

Alexandre Bonnin, Ph.D., Expert on Autism, Schizophrenia, Depression and Brain Research
Alexandre Bonnin, Ph.D.

Alexandre Bonnin, Ph.D., NARSAD Grantee and winner of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation 2011 Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Research by a Young Investigator, has developed a novel method of studying the interaction of the placenta and fetus in mice. The method should have an impact in many areas of medical research, including attempts to assess, in animal models, the impact of events occurring during gestation—whether external ones coming from the surrounding environment or internal biological processes—upon the incidence and severity of disorders such as autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Such linkages have long been the subject of sophisticated research and of public speculation: what is the relationship, if any, between these and other illnesses and the events and conditions occurring during pregnancy—from stress to nutrition to substance use and abuse?

Dr. Bonnin, of the Zilkha Neurogenic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, along with colleague Nick Goeden, published a protocol, or set of instructions, for the novel method in a recent issue of the journal Nature Protocols. Called “ex vivo perfusion,” the method details how to sustain a functioning placenta excised from a pregnant mouse. Following the procedure, researchers can conduct a variety of controlled experiments over time to see how the fetus responds to various changes originating in the placental tissue. They might, for instance, introduce molecules into the placenta and see if, when and to what degree they reach the fetal body and brain.

The method, the researchers noted, “allows for the unique opportunity to explore cellular and biochemical processes underlying the impact of environmental or maternal events on placental function throughout the gestational period.”

Read more about this study in Nature Protocols