Diaz Heijtz Laboratory

Our research interests are centered on understanding the biological basis of neurodevelopmental disorders, with a focus on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

GF mice show altered expression of synaptic plasticity-related genes
GF mice show altered expression of synaptic plasticity-related genes. Photo: Rochellys Diaz Heijtz.

Research focus

We use different animal model systems to understand the contribution of genetic factors, impact of early adverse life experience (e.g., stress, infections), and gene-environment interactions on the development of motor, affective and cognitive functions, which are impaired in ADHD and ASD. We are also interested in exploring the potential clinical utility of cognitive enhancers in combination with motor/cognitive training for the treatment of these disorders.

Our work is performed in collaboration with clinicians and psychologists at the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital and Karolinska Institutet Center of Neurodevelopmental
Disorders (KIND). This optimizes the opportunities for iterative translation from basic to clinical research and back to more fundamental mechanistic studies.

Key subjects of interest:

  1. Impact of normal gut microbiota on brain development and behavior.
  2. Clinical studies of young children at high risk for developing ASD, with special focus on the potential role of the gut microbiota.
  3. Molecular and epigenetic mechanisms underlying motor/cognitive training-induced plasticity and modulation by cognitive enhancers.
Radial arm maze
Radial arm maze. Photo: Rochellys Diaz Heijtz.

Group members

Selected publications

Toll-like receptor-4 regulates anxiety-like behavior and DARPP-32 phosphorylation.
Femenia T, Qian Y, Arentsen T, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R.
Brain Behav Immun. 2017 In Press, 6 December. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2017.11.022

Sex-dependent alterations in motor and anxiety-like behavior of aged bacterial peptidoglycan sensing molecule 2 knockout mice.
Arentsen T, Khalid R, Qian Y, Diaz Heijtz R
Brain Behav. Immun. 2018 Jan;67():345-354

Brief Report: Association Between Autism Spectrum Disorder, Gastrointestinal Problems and Perinatal Risk Factors Within Sibling Pairs.
Isaksson J, Pettersson E, Kostrzewa E, Diaz Heijtz R, Bölte S
J Autism Dev Disord 2017 08;47(8):2621-2627

The bacterial peptidoglycan-sensing molecule Pglyrp2 modulates brain development and behavior.
Arentsen T, Qian Y, Gkotzis S, Femenia T, Wang T, Udekwu K, et al
Mol. Psychiatry 2017 02;22(2):257-266

Host microbiota modulates development of social preference in mice.
Arentsen T, Raith H, Qian Y, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R
Microb. Ecol. Health Dis. 2015 ;26():29719

Motor Skill Learning Is Associated with Phase-Dependent Modifications in the Striatal cAMP/PKA/DARPP-32 Signaling Pathway in Rodents.
Qian Y, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R
PLoS ONE 2015 ;10(10):e0140974

Genetic variation in dopamine-related gene expression influences motor skill learning in mice.
Qian Y, Chen M, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R
Genes Brain Behav. 2013 Aug;12(6):604-14

Cognitive outcome in adolescents and young adults after repeat courses of antenatal corticosteroids.
Stålnacke J, Diaz Heijtz R, Norberg H, Norman M, Smedler AC, Forssberg H
J. Pediatr. 2013 Aug;163(2):441-6

Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior.
Diaz Heijtz R, Wang S, Anuar F, Qian Y, Björkholm B, Samuelsson A, et al
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2011 Feb;108(7):3047-52