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Volk Autism Banner


  • Environmental and genetic epidemiology of autism

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders

  • Gene-environment interaction


Dr. Volk's study on environmental autism suggests children exposed to air pollution from traffic and other sources while in the womb and during their first year may be at an increased risk for autism. Infants exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were three times more likely to develop autism than those exposed to the lowest levels, researchers found.

"There is evidence that the immune system might be associated with autism, and pollution affects these same pathways," said lead researcher Heather Volk, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Read more.


  • Individual Award (Volk), 07/01/11-06/31/2012         
    James H. Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund                        
    A Birth Records Based Analysis of Autism in Anaheim
    Specific Aims of Project: This project will using birth certificate and state service records to build the infrastructure needed for a  case-control study nested in a birth cohort of children in Southern California and to examine preliminary associations between air pollution and autism in Anaheim, California.

  • Individual Award (Volk)                                                      
    Autism Speaks, 02/01/12-01/31/2013    
    Perinatal Exposure to Airborne Pollutants and Autism Phenotype  
    Aims of Project: This proposal seeks to expand and integrate previous research on air pollutants to understand the effect of these environmental contaminants on autism, building on data from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange.

  • R21 - RFA-ES-11-002 (Schmidt), 07/01/12-06/31/2015         
    NIH/NIEHS - University of California, Davis               
    Interactions between Antioxidant Nutrients and Environmental Risk Factors for Autism Specific Aims of Project: This project examines the potential modifying effects of nutritional factors (e.g.: prenatal vitamin use) on environmental risk factors, including air pollution and organophosphate pesticide exposure, for autism and to assess the role of epigenetic changes in this relationship. 

  • Individual Award (Croen)                                                      
    Autism Speaks – Kaiser Permanente Northern California, 02/01/13-01/31/2015    
    Air Pollution, MET Genotype, and ASD Risk: GxE Interaction in the EMA Study 
    Specific Aims of Project: This proposal seeks to examine the interaction of the MET gene with air pollution exposure in the Early Markers of Autism (EMA) study.


  • USC: Rob McConnell, Frank Gilliland, Dan Campbell
  • UC Davis: Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Rebecca Schmidt
  • Drexel University: Nora Lee
  • University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee: Amy Kalkbrenner
  • California Department of Public Health: Gayle Windham
  • Kaiser Permanante of Northern California: Lisa Croen



  1. Volk HE, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;70(1):71-7.

  2. Volk HE, Hertz-Picciotto I, Delwiche L, Lurmann F, McConnell R. Residential proximity to freeways and autism in the CHARGE study. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jun;119(6):873-7.

  3. Volk HE, Todorov AA, Hay DA, Todd RD. Simple identification of complex ADHD subtypes using current symptom counts. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;48(4):441-50.

  4. Reiersen AM, Constantino JN, Volk HE, Todd RD. Autistic traits in a population-based ADHD twin sample. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2007 May;48(5):464-72.

  5. Volk HE, McDermott KB, Roediger HL 3rd, Todd RD. Genetic influences on free and cued recall in long-term memory tasks. Twin Res Hum Genet. 2006 Oct;9(5):623-31.

  6. Volk HE, Scherrer JF, Bucholz KK, Todorov A, Heath AC, Jacob T, True WR. Evidence for specificity of transmission of alcohol and nicotine dependence in an offspring of twins design.
    Drug Alcohol Depend. 2007 Mar 16;87(2-3):225-32.

  7. Volk HE, Todd RD. Does the Child Behavior Checklist juvenile bipolar disorder phenotype identify bipolar disorder? Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Jul 15;62(2):115-20.

  8. Volk HE, Henderson C, Neuman RJ, Todd RD. Validation of population-based ADHD subtypes and identification of three clinically impaired subtypes. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2006 Apr 5;141B(3):312-8.

  9. Reich W, Neuman RJ, Volk HE, Joyner CA, Todd RD. Comorbidity between ADHD and symptoms of bipolar disorder in a community sample of children and adolescents. Twin Res Hum Genet. 2005 Oct;8(5):459-66.

  10. Volk HE, Neuman RJ, Todd RD. A systematic evaluation of ADHD and comorbid psychopathology in a population-based twin sample. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2005 Aug;44(8):768-75.


Volk Lab
The Saban Research Institute
4650 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90027
Email: Healther Volk, PhD


Heather Volk, PhD

Healther Volk, PhD

PubMed Link