Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer and Director of The Saban Research Institute
Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics, Institute for the Developing Mind, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Investigator, Research on Children, Youth and Families
Director USC Neuroscience Graduate Program
Professor of Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine of USC
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Dr. Levitt received his B.A. in Biology at the University of Chicago, a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at University of California, San Diego and a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. Dr. Levitt has held chair and institute directorships at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Vanderbilt University and USC. Dr. Levitt has been a National Institute of Mental Health MERIT awardee, McKnight awardee, and has served as a member of the National Advisory Mental Health Council for the National Institute of Mental Health. He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine.

He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, and serves as Scientific Director of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a policy council that brings the best research from child development and neuroscience to assist state and federal policy makers and private sector business leaders in making decisions regarding child program investment.

His research program includes basic studies that probe the ways in which circuitries that controls learning, emotional and social behavior develop, using advanced technologies in genetics, cell biology and behavior. Clinical research investigates children with autism spectrum disorder who have co-occurring gastrointestinal and other conditions. Studies of infant resilience to adversity focus on the brain-based and metabolic changes that may have short and long-term impacts on mental and physical health. He has published over 275 scientific papers.

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Graduate School: 

University of California, San Diego


Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University School of Medicine



BA, Biological Sciences, University of Chicago; PhD, Neurobiology, University of California, San Diego


1.      NIMH R01 “Function and Structure Adaptations in Forebrain Development”
2.      Autism Speaks “Response Heterogeneity to GI Treatment, Autism Symptom and Improved Oxidative Stress”
3.      NIH T32 “Training in Fundamental Neuroscience”
4.      The Simms/Mann Family Foundation Discovery Research Fund
5.      The Simms/Mann Family Foundation, High-Risk, High-Impact Exploratory Research and Next Generation
         Research Project Incubation
6.      JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress: A Project of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
7.      Higgins Family Foundation “Pilot Clinical Trial on Autism and the Gut Microbiome

Other Information


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

Mukamel, Z., Konopka, G., Wexler, E., Osborn, G.E., Bergman, M.Y., Levitt, P., Geschwind, D.H. (2011) Regulation of MET by FOXP2, genes implicated in higher cognitive dysfunction and autism risk. J. Neurosci. 31:11437-11442.

State, M.W., Levitt, P. (2011) The conundrums of understanding genetic risks for autism spectrum disorders.  Nat. Neurosci. 14:1-8.

Qiu, S., Aldinger, K.A., Levitt, P. (2012) Modeling of Autism Genetic Variations in Mice. Focusing on Synaptic and Microcircuit Dysfunction. Dev. Neurosci. 34:88-100.

Rudie, J.D., L. M. Hernandez, L.M., Brown, J.A., Beck-Pancer, D., N. L. Colich, N.L., Gorrindo, Thompson, P.M., Geschwind, D.H., Bookheimer, S.Y., Levitt, P., Dapretto, M. (2012) Autism Associated Promoter Variant in MET Impacts Functional and Structural Brain Networks. Neuron 75:904-915.

Gorrindo, P., Lane, C.J., Lee, E.B., McLaughlin, B.A., Levitt, P. (2013) Enrichment Of Elevated Plasma f2t-Isoprostane Levels In Individuals With Autism Who Are Stratified By Presence of Gastrointestinal Dysfunction. PLoS One 8:e68444.

Plummer, J.T., Evgrafov, O.V., Bergman, M.Y., Friez, M., Haiman, C.A., Levitt, P., Aldinger, K.A. (2013)Transcriptional regulation of the MET receptor tyrosine kinase gene by MeCP2 and sex-specific expression in autism and Rett syndrome. Transl. Psychiatry 3:e316.

Qiu, S. Lu, Z., Levitt, P. (2014) MET receptor tyrosine kinase controls dendritic complexity, spine morphogenesis and glutamatergic synapse formation in the hippocampus. J. Neurosci. 34:16166-16179, 2014.

Wang, F., Eagleson, K.L., Levitt, P. (2015) Positive regulation of neocortical synapse formation by Plexin-D1 receptor. Brain Research 1616:157-165.

Aldinger, K.A., Lane, C.J., Veenstra-VanderWeele, J., Levitt, P. (2015) Patterns of risk for multiple co-occurring medical conditions replicate across distinct cohorts of children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Res., e-Ahead of Print.


Research Interests: 

Research Topics

  • Development of neural circuitry that controls social-emotional behavior and learning

  • Regulation of risk genes for neurodevelopmental disorders

  • Role of the placenta in influencing fetal brain development and long-term health outcomes

  • Clinical studies of children with ASD who also have co-occurring medical symptoms

  • Clinical neuroscience studies of resilience in very young children exposed to early adversity

Research Overview

The research projects in our laboratory are driven by a talented group of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, research staff and collaborating faculty. Our laboratory is unique in undertaking both basic and clinical research projects. Research projects investigate the development of brain architecture that controls emotional and social behavior and learning, the challenges that arise when neurodevelopment is derailed, and determining why brain and certain medical disorders often co-occur in children and adolescents.

We are committed to understanding the biological basis of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders and how genes and prenatal and early postnatal environments together influence typical and atypical development. We focus on how the remarkable and complex diversity of cell types arise in the neocortex and autonomic brain, and the factors that regulate circuit and synapse formation. Preclinical models combine genetic manipulations and exposure to early adverse experiences to study the impact on circuit wiring, cellular physiology impacted by oxidative stress, and the development of social and emotional behaviors. We know that the regulation of how genes are used is key to unlocking the mysteries of brain development. Our research program thus investigates how the expression of genes is regulated, and how regulation differs for genes implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders and in specific medical conditions, particularly gastrointestinal disturbances and cancer. An array of technical methods are used, including mapping of genes that regulate the developmental of social and emotional behaviors, conditional gene disruption to determine impact on brain development and function, discovery of protein-DNA interactions at gene regulatory sites in the genome, gene function and regulation in primary brain and cancer cell lines, protein-protein interactions that regulate synapse formation and function, and studies of complex behaviors.

Two clinical research programs are underway:

Tummy Troubles – The clinical study funded by Autism Speaks are measuring biomarkers, cognitive and social-emotional functions in school-age children with autism spectrum disorder who also have prevalent co-occurring medical conditions, particularly gastrointestinal disorders. Children are seen 3-4 times over a 1 year period to determine whether successful treatment of their GI conditions correlates with improved autism symptoms. In experimental model systems, we connect autism risk genes and medical conditions by disrupting expression of genes in brain and gut. For more information, please contact Program Manager Sandra Figueroa at

Infant resilience and early adversity – The clinical study is part of a large research consortium with Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child through a grant from The JPB Foundation in New York.  Our studies include assessment of attention by modern eye tracking methods and simultaneous measures of brain wave activity (EEG). The study includes biomarker measures of oxidative stress in infants and their mothers who are screened for postpartum depression. For more information, please contact Program Manager Sandra Figueroa at

In The News- Press Releases


  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • The Simms/Mann Family Foundation
  • Autism Speaks
  • Higgins Family Foundation
  • The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress: A Project of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University


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