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article imageMother's gut health and autism connection

By Tim Sandle     Jul 28, 2018 in Science
New research draws a connection between the health of an expectant mother's gut and autism in her yet to be born child. The inference that follows is that changing an expectant mother's diet could lower autism risks. However, further research is required.
By intestinal 'health', this relates to the balance of microorganisms that reside in the gut - the microbiome. The microbiome is a collective term for complex, interconnected microbial populations, their genetic elements (genomes), and environmental interactions. Advances in high-throughput DNA sequencing methods have led to rapidly expanding knowledge about the gut microbiome.
The mother's microbiome is, according to the research from the University of Virginia Health System, a key contributor to the risk of autism, and also other neurodevelopmental disorders. The gut microbiome is typically assayed via a stool sample, because of the non-invasive route of collection, using advanced genotypic microbial identification methods. This relates to the balance relating to the numbers of beneficial microorganisms and those microorganisms, when in a higher abundance, can cause harm. This has been explored by the researchers using an animal model.
The implications from the study raises the possibility that the potential for autism could be lowered by varing expectant mothers' diets. This is the headline part of the study, but caution is required. In theory, the microbiome can be altered either through straightforward changes to diet, the use of probiotic supplements or via a fecal transplant. However, in practice something as complex as autism spectrum disorder cannot, based on these studies, be said to be addressed simply by changing one factor.
Overall this field of research tallies with other similar studies where the body’s intestinal microbiome has been shown to influence human metabolism, through interacting with the body’s immune system. See, for example, the Digital Journal article "How the intestinal microbiome influences metabolism."
In further research, the same scientists also succeed in using their research to prevent the development of autism-like neurodevelopmental disorders in laboratory mice. The study on rodents found that such disorders could be halted by blocking a certain inflammatory molecule, which is produced by the immune system. By targeting this molecule, called interleukin-17a, this provides an alternative means for preventing autism if appropriate medicine could be given to an expectant mother.
It should be noted that both of these tranches of research remain at an early stage and that the effects have only been seen, so far, with mice. Further research is required before any human trials commence. This would include an assessment of any potential side effects.
The research findings have been published in The Journal of Immunology. The research study is titled "Cutting Edge: Critical Roles for Microbiota-Mediated Regulation of the Immune System in a Prenatal Immune Activation Model of Autism."
More about Autism, microbiome, Mother, Bacteria
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