Alexandre Bonnin

Assistant Professor
Dept of Cell & Neurobiology
Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
Keck School of Medicine of USC

Alexandre  Bonnin

Research Topics

  • Fetal programming of adult mental disorders
  • Influence of placental metabolism on fetal brain development
  • Role of serotonin (5-HT) in fetal programming of adult diseases

Research Images

Serotonin axons (red) and thalamocortical axons (green) visualized in a sagittal section through an embryonic mouse brain.Ex vivo perfusion of a mouse placenta.

Research Overview

Our goal is to understand how maternal-fetal interactions affect fetal brain development. The current focus is on the role of serotonin (5-HT) signaling in fetal programming or in other words, how serotonin signaling affects the mechanisms by which maternal and environmental factors shape the fetal brain and influence the development of adult diseases. These studies should ultimately provide new clues into the developmental origin of several mental health-related disorders in humans, such as autism and schizophrenia.
These and other disorders of adult brain function have developmental components suggesting a crucial ontogenetic role of neurotransmitter systems. In particular the serotonergic modulation of axon guidance mechanisms is important for the refinement of neuronal circuitsÂ’ formation in utero, suggesting that serotonergic signaling is important for normal fetal brain wiring.
We are currently investigating how maternal/environmental factors affect the serotonergic modulation of fetal brain development; factors that alter 5-HT availability in the maternal and/or fetal compartments (e.g. maternal/placental metabolism, infections, stress, exposure to therapeutic drugs) can potentially alter fetal brain wiring and function in the embryo. We developed a new technology to study the molecular, neurochemical and metabolic details of the maternal-fetal interaction in the mouse. This technology will enable us to test how changes in placental metabolism at different stages of gestation impact the supply of 5-HT and other molecules to the fetus and ultimately fetal brain wiring in utero. This will provide unique opportunities to determine how maternal and placental derived neurotransmitters, cytokines and hormones impact the development of 5-HT-relevant and other circuits that have been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders. We are also pursuing a translational approach aiming at understanding and potentially reducing the effects of therapeutic drugs, in particular antidepressants, on fetal brain development.

Contact Information

Mailing Address
Office Location ZNI 429
Office Phone (323) 442-2986
Lab Location ZNI 421
Lab Phone (323) 442-2036
Office Location ZNI 429


  • PhD (1999) University of Paris XI and Pasteur Institute (Paris, France)

Selected Publications

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  • Fetal, maternal, and placental sources of serotonin and new implications for developmental programming of the brain.Neuroscience. 2011 Oct 8. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed Link
  • A transient placental source of serotonin for the fetal forebrain. Nature. 2011 Apr 21;472(7343):347-50. PubMed Link
  • Serotonin modulates the response of embryonic thalamocortical axons to netrin-1.Nat Neurosci. 2007 May;10(5):588-97. PubMed Link
  • Expression mapping of 5-HT1 serotonin receptor subtypes during fetal and early postnatal mouse forebrain development.Neuroscience. 2006 Aug 25;141(2):781-94. PubMed Link