Gut microbes linked to autism symptoms

Mice, which had autism-like symptoms, were fed a microbe, called Bacteriodes fragilis, found in the stomachs of humans and this resulted in an improvement in the behavior of these mice.

Ananth Baliga

Microbes, the community of bacteria that populate the human gastrointestinal tract, could help improve the symptoms of autism, based on research conducted on mice with autism-like behavior.

The findings were published Thursday as part of the newly formed Autism Microbiome Consortium, a group of experts investigating the autism-gut microbiome link. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology used techniques to induce autism-like symptoms and behavior in mice, who were then fed Bacteriodes fragilis, a microbe know to bolster the immune system, and saw an improvement in the behavior of the mice.


"The broader potential of this research is obviously an analogous probiotic that could treat subsets of individuals with autism spectrum disorder," said authors of the study.

The study, the first to show such results, builds on previous research that suggests the microbes living in the gut could affect what goes on in the brain. Certain microbes have been found to affect cognition, emotions and mental health in humans, according to Rob Knight, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorders are known to experience more gastrointestinal problems than the general public, and the authors hope further research could lead to probiotic treatments.


Knight, who called the research "groundbreaking," is also involved in a crowdfunded effort called the American Gut Project to help people with autism spectrum disorder who would like to have their gut microbes sequenced. The project aims to study the gut microbiome to understand its influence on a person's life and could in the future possibly be used to diagnose disease.

[CalTech] [American Gut Project]

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