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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health Centers UC Davis Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention

Institution: University of California, Davis
Center Director: Judy Van de Water, Ph.D.
Project Period: July 2013 – June 2018

Research Questions

Project 1: What are the effects of environmental exposures on the development of autism?
Project 2: How do early life exposures shape the difference between normal development and development of autism?
Project 3: Do environmental exposures have an effect on immune and nervous system development?
Project 4: Can the genes that increase risk for autism also increase susceptibility to environmental toxicants?

Keywords: Autism, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, Epigenetics, Flame Retardants, Immune System, Neurodevelopment, PBDEs, Pesticides


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of neurodevelopmental disorders defined by social, behavioral and neurological deficits. The rate of autism in the U.S. continues to increase rapidly, occurring in approximately one out of every 50 boys. Research shows that both genetics and environmental factors are likely to contribute to autism. Early markers of risk are needed to identify children who may develop this disorder. The goal of this center is to identify risk factors contributing to autism. Understanding these risk factors will contribute to improved diagnosis, prevention and therapies for children with autism.

Project Abstract and Annual Reports: The UC Davis Center for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention
Center Website: Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention (CCEH) Exit

Research Projects

Project 1: Project 1: Epidemiology and the Environment in Autism
As rates of ASD continue to rise, the burden on communities becomes a major public health concern. This project is examining the contribution of several common household exposures, such as flame retardants and pesticides, to the risk of autism.

Project Leaders: Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Ph.D., University of California, Davis

Project 2: Perinatal Epigenetic Signature of Environmental Exposure
This project is investigating how environmental exposures change the activity of genes involved in the development of the nervous and immune systems. The results of this research will increase understanding of the relationship between genetic and environmental risk factors in autism, leading to improved diagnosis, prevention and therapies.

Project Leaders: Janine LaSalle, Ph.D., University of California, Davis

Project 3: Immune Environment Interaction and Neurodevelopment
Although ASD primarily affects brain function, studies have also identified changes in the immune system of children with autism. This project is studying the effect of chemical exposures on the developing immune as a risk factor for autism. This study is also investigating whether a weakened immune system in a child with autism will increase vulnerability to environmental toxicants.

Project Leader: Judy Van de Water, Ph.D., University of California, Davis

Project 4: Calcium Signaling Defects in Autism
This project is studying genes that contribute to autism risk and that increase vulnerability to pollutants. The methods being used are the first to allow investigation of how autism genes influence susceptibility to other environmental factors.

Project Leader: Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., University of California, Davis