University of Southern California

USC Neuroscience

Pat Levitt

Provost Professor, Dept. Pediatrics
WM Keck Chair in Neurogenetics
Keck School of Medicine, USC
Director-Program in Developmental Neurogenetics
Institute for the Developing Mind
Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Director-Neuroscience Graduate Program University of Southern California

Research Topics

  1. Development of Neural Circuitry and Synapses
  2. Neurodevelopmental Mechanisms of Social-Emotional Behavior
  3. Genetics and Epigenetics of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  4. Clinical studies of children with ASD and medical co-morbidities
  5. Impact of early experience on brain development
  6. role of placenta in controlling fetal brain development and influencing long-term behavior dysfunction

Research Overview

The projects in our laboratory are driven by a talented group of research fellows, graduate students, research staff and collaborating faculty. We focus on investigating the development of brain architecture that controls learning, emotional and social behavior, through research in animals and children. Our research studies have a long term goal of understanding the biological basis of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, and how genes and the environment (prenatal or early postnatal) together influence typical and atypical development. We use mouse genetics and fetal gene manipulations to study the impact on circuit wiring and the development of social and emotional behavior. We study the interaction between developmental learning mechanisms and social behavior in both infants and mouse models. We study the transcriptional regulation of genes that influence circuit wiring, and the molecular signaling systems that control synapse formation and stability. Using genetics, measurement of biomarkers and deep clinical characterization, we study children with an autism spectrum disorder, and those subgroups that have prevalent co-occurring medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders or epilepsy. In experimental model systems, we connect autism risk genes and medical conditions by manipulating expression of relevant genes in the gut. Studies also focus on genetic manipulation of genes expressed in the mouse placenta that regulate production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. We seek to understand how disruption of these genes in the placenta influence fetal brain development and long-term behavior. An array of technical methods are used, including conditional gene targeting, biochemistry and molecular biology, microscopy, cell culture and in utero electroporation, electrophysiology and behavioral analyses. The laboratory currently holds research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Simons Foundation.

Contact Information

Web Site:
Mailing Address:
The Saban Research Institute
4650 Sunset Blvd., Mailstop # 135
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Office Location:
Office Phone:
(323) 361-7868


  • BA, Biological Sciences, University of Chicago
  • PhD, Neurobiology, University of California, San Diego
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University School of Medicine

Research Images

Selected Publications

View a complete PubMed search

View a complete Google Scholar search

Reeb-Sutherland, B.C, Levitt, P., Fox, N.A. The predictive nature of individual differeneces in early associative learning and emerging social behavior. PLoS One 7:e30511, 2012. -PubMed

Gorrindo, P., Williams, K.C., Lee, E.B., Walker, L.S.,McGrew, S.G., Levitt, P. Gastrointestinal dysfunction in autism: parentalreport, clinical evaluation and associated factors.  Aut. Res. 5:101-108, 2012. -PubMed

Bonnin, A., Goeden, N., Chen, K., Wilson, M.,L., King,J., Shih, J.C., Blakely, R.D., Deneris, E.S., Levitt, P.  A transient placental source of serotonin forthe fetal forebrain.  Nature 472: 347-350, 2011 -PubMed

Qiu, S., Anderson, C.T, Levitt, P., Shepherd, G.M.G.  Circuit-specific intracorticalhyperconnectivity in mice with deletion of the autism-associated Met receptortyrosine kinase.  J. Neurosci., 31:5855-5864, 2011 -PubMed

Judson, M.C., Amaral, D.G., Levitt, P. Conservedsubcortical and divergent cortical of proteins encoded by orthologs of theautism risk gene MET.  Cerebral Cortex, 21:1613-1626, 2011. -PubMed

Eagleson, K.L., Campbell, D.B., Thompson, B.L., Bergman,M.Y., and Levitt, P. The autism risk genes METand PLAUR differentially impactcortical development.  Autism Research 4:68-83, 2011. -PubMed

Judson, M.C., Eagleson, K.L., Wang, L., Levitt,P. Evidence of cell-nonautonomous changes in dendrite and dendritic spinemorphology in the met-signaling-deficient mouse forebrain.  J.Comp. Neurol. 518:4463-4478, 2010. -PubMed

Shonkoff, J.P. and Levitt, P. (2010). Neuroscience and the Future ofEarly Childhood Policy: Moving from Why to What and How. Neuron 67,689-691. -PubMed

Torii, M., Hashimoto-Torii, K., Levitt, P., Rakic, P.  Integration of neuronal clones in the radial cortical columns by EphA and ephrin signaling.  Nature 461: 424-428. 2009

Bonnin, A., Torii, M., Wang, L., Rakic, P., and Levitt, P. Serotonin modulates the response of embryonic thalamocortical axons to netrin-1.  Nature Neuroscience 10(5):588-597, 2007.