What California sea lions exposed to domoic acid might teach us about autism: lessons for predictive and preventive medicine

Garet Paul Lahvis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) shares many biological and behavioral similarities with the deleterious effects of domoic acid (DA) exposure. DA is produced by marine algae and most commonly by species of Pseudo-nitzschia. Humans and marine mammals can be exposed to DA when they consume whole fish or shellfish. The mammalian fetus is highly sensitive to the deleterious effects of DA exposure. Both ASD and exposures to toxic levels of DA feature repetitive behaviors, challenges with social interaction, and seizures. They can also share a commonality in brain anatomy and function, particularly the balance between excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms. The current article is relevant to predictive, preventive, and personalized medicine for three reasons. First, shellfish consumption may be a risk factor for ASD and the regulatory limit for DA should be adjusted to prevent this possibility. Human contributions to increased algal production of DA in coastal waters should be identified and reduced. Second, evaluations of sentinel species wild and free-roaming in the environment, though typically outside the purview of biomedical research, should be much more fully employed to gain insights to risk factors for human disease. To better identify and prevent disease, biomedical researchers should study wild populations. Third, studies of DA exposure highlight the possibility that glutamate additives to processed foods may also have deleterious impacts on human brain development and behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-235
Number of pages7
JournalEPMA Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 12 2017


  • Anatomy
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Behavior
  • Brain
  • Development
  • Domoic acid
  • Glutamate
  • Population screening
  • Predictive diagnosis
  • Targeted prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Health Policy
  • Biochemistry, medical


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