Infectious Behavior

Infectious Behavior

Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia, and Depression

By Paul H. Patterson

An examination of brain-immune system communication in autism, schizophrenia, and depression.

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Episode 35 (Oct. '11): Paul H. Patterson
Wednesday, 28 September, 2011





An examination of brain-immune system communication in autism, schizophrenia, and depression.

In Infectious Behavior, neurobiologist Paul Patterson examines the involvement of the immune system in autism, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder. Although genetic approaches to these diseases have garnered the lion's share of publicity and funding, scientists are uncovering evidence of the important avenues of communication between the brain and the immune system and their involvement in mental illness. Patterson focuses on this brain-immune crosstalk, exploring the possibility that it may help us understand the causes of these common, but still mysterious, diseases. The heart of this engaging book, accessible to nonscientists, 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. Patterson reports on research that may shed light on today's autism epidemic. He also outlines the risks and benefits of both maternal and postnatal vaccinations.

In the course of his discussion, Patterson offers a short history of immune manipulation in treating mental illness (recounting some frightening but fascinating early experiments) and explains how the immune system influences behavior and how the brain regulates the immune system, looking in particular at stress and depression. He examines the prenatal origins of adult disease and evidence for immune involvement in autism, schizophrenia, and depression. Finally, he describes 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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262016452 176 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 24 b&w illus., 3 color plates


$15.95 T ISBN: 9780262525343 176 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 24 b&w illus., 3 color plates


  • A chapter is devoted to an evidence-based review of the theory of a connection between vaccinations and autism. For this chapter alone, this book is worth a recommendation. This well-written book is good for anyone interested in behavior, disease, maternal-child health, and public health.

    Library Journal

  • His title is a little daunting, but neurobiologist Patterson has succeeded in his aim of crafting an accessible, even fascinating, book about one of the hottest topics in mental health. In the long-running nature versus nurture argument, our era is all about nature. There is no one left—no one with scientific credentials, at least—who believes the way we nurture our offspring (cold mothers, distant fathers) creates autistic or schizophrenic children. But nature for too many people, experts and laypersons alike, means our genes alone. And they, Patterson shows, are not the whole story. He notes how the final health effects from the great flu pandemic of 1918, which killed more people than the Great War, played out very recently. Those who were in their mothers' wombs during the pandemic went on to a lifetime of health and socio-economic problems disproportionately worse than those of children born before or after: lower educational achievement and lower incomes, higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. Those outcomes are suggestive of the virus's effect on fetal brain development; the fact they often did not appear before adulthood supports the emerging hypothesis of the fetal origins of many adult diseases. Patterson describes the womb as a 'battlefield,' in which a fetus has to struggle to fend off rejection by the mother's immune system. Infection, which ramps up the immune response, can have devastating effects on fetal brains. The latest studies indicate that the risk of schizophrenia among the male offspring of women who come down with the flu during the first half of their pregnancies is three to seven times higher than usual. Patterson notes that common-sense ways to cut down on flu infection are widely known—wash your hands and avoid airplane flights if at all possible—but often ignored, even by pregnant women, because the stakes seem so small. He's done his best to correct that assumption.


  • Neurobiologist Paul Patterson, PhD, has produced a remarkably accessible and enjoyable book that intertwines history, case studies and laboratory science...It's an engaging and thought-provoking read for nonscientists and scientists alike.

    Autism Speaks blog

  • For the non-expert, this field can be more intimidating than a box of jumbled Christmas decorations. In Infectious Behavior: Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia, and Depression, biologist Paul Patterson nimbly untangles the strings of lights.

    Virginia Hughes

    Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative

  • The book is simultaneously accessible to the lay reader and insightful to the reader with more expertise. It flows like a professor who rolls up his sleeves and delivers an engaging talk to his audience without once looking at his slides. [It] is a well written, enjoyable read for any audience.

    Brain, Behavior, and Immunity

  • Patterson's book is so clear and compelling that it will appeal to clinicians awaiting novel disease models with new opportunities for prevention and cure, family members endlessly pondering the source of their loved one's ailment, and any reader who enjoys medical detective stories. A lucid synthesis of historical and current thinking about 'infectious' routes to mental illness.

    American Journal of Psychiatry


  • Finally someone is looking at the whole picture, not just one pathogen or disease at a time. In his paradigm-shifting book, Paul Patterson explains the dynamic interaction between the immune system, the brain, and development, unveiling an important new understanding of what may underlie many devastating brain disorders. Infectious Behavior opens the door to a whole new way of thinking about the causes and cures for some of the most challenging brain disorders, giving us much cause for hope.

    Portia Iversen

    cofounder, Cure Autism Now Foundation (CAN), cofounder, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), founder, International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR)

  • Paul Patterson is attempting to describe a new field of study of which he himself is the leading pioneer. A summation of the field at the present is not currently available, either in other books or in journal articles, and therefore this book will fill an important niche. Patterson's efforts are unique in that they bridge the basic science and clinical world in a way that no other researcher in this field has done. This is a welcome addition to the field and a book that I will clearly want to buy and recommend.

    Robert Freedman

    Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado

  • Neuroscience is one of the most exciting fields in science currently. Within neuroscience, one of the hottest research topics is the link between the immune system and the brain. Paul Patterson provides a lucid and up-to-the-minute account of this field. The research has profound implications for our understanding of disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

    John McGrath

    Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland