Meet our team: A conversation with Monica Nadler, tissue coordinator for Autism BrainNet Boston node

By Lilliam Acosta-Sanchez and Serena Bianchi

Autism BrainNet relies on the teamwork of many clinical and research staff to acquire and distribute the tissue provided by the donor families. This staff is located at three centers, or nodes, across the United States. We recently spoke with Monica Nadler, tissue coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA, to learn more about her work with Autism BrainNet.

Monica Nadler, Ph.D.

How did you become interested in autism research and involved with Autism BrainNet?

I am a Ph.D. research scientist who is training with Matthew Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of Autism BrainNet node at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. A major focus of Dr. Anderson’s research is in understanding the biological mechanisms responsible for autism spectrum disorders. When presented with a position opening within Autism BrainNet, I embraced the opportunity to engage with a community of professionals devoted to autism research.

What is your role with Autism BrainNet?

I am the tissue coordinator for Autism BrainNet at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, one of several nodes throughout the program. My role is to manage tissue donations to our node and maintain the inventory and documentation for each case. I also manage the distribution of tissue to researchers when approved requests are submitted to our node.

What do you see as one of the biggest findings or revelations that you have encountered by doing research in the field of autism?

When I started working in autism research, one of the biggest revelations to me was that there is no description of a neuropathology for autism. Whereas the presence of tangles and plaques are a hallmark for Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy bodies are present in Parkinson’s, there was no description of similar features in the brain of individuals with autism. The Anderson lab recently published a study1 that, for the first time, described cellular features consistent with an immune response targeting specialized brain cells in more than two-thirds of the postmortem autism brains we analyzed. These cellular characteristics provide a critical new insight into the neuropathology of autism, which may help improve diagnosis and treatment strategies.

Why is it important to conduct studies of the postmortem human brain to advance autism research?

Each donation made to Autism BrainNet is an incredible gift that provides an essential resource to autism researchers worldwide. The direct analysis of postmortem human brain tissue is necessary because it enables studies that would not be possible otherwise.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your collaboration with Autism BrainNet?

The most rewarding aspect for me has been working closely with all the professionals within the Autism BrainNet network, who are all dedicated to furthering research in autism. Each one of us has a unique role, and it all comes together to further autism research using postmortem human brain tissue.

How do you see the future in autism research and especially in autism research that uses postmortem tissue?

We are at a stage of autism research in which we are beginning to define the neuropathology of autism. We need a better understanding of the brain’s cellular and molecular processes that are involved in the onset and development of autism, and continued research using human postmortem brain tissue is fundamental to these ongoing research efforts.


1. DiStasio M. et al. Ann. Neurology 86, 885-898 (2019) PubMed