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Gut Bacteria May Contribute To Autism Symptoms, Mouse Study Finds

Suren Enfiajyan shared this story from Science magazine:
Genes are a powerful driver of risk for autism, but some researchers suspect another factor is also at play: the set of bacteria that inhabits the gut. That idea has been controversial, but a new study offers support for this gut-brain link. It reveals that mice develop autismlike behaviors when they are colonized by microbes from the feces of people with autism. The result doesn’t prove that gut bacteria can cause autism. But it suggests that, at least in mice, the makeup of the gut can contribute to some hallmark features of the disorder.

“It’s quite an encouraging paper,” says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland who was not involved in the research. The idea that metabolites — the molecules produced by bacterial digestion — can influence brain activity “is plausible, it makes sense, and it will help push the field forward…” Compared with mice colonized with bacteria from children without autism, the mice that inherited a microbiome from a child with autism were less social and showed more repetitive behavior, the authors report today in Cell. Mice with the autism-derived microbiome also had lower levels of several bacterial species that the researchers suspect could be beneficial…

“There’s still a lot of missing links,” says Jun Huh, an immunologist at Harvard University who studies the relationship between bacteria and brain function. “But I think the real importance of this study is to show — for the first time — that there’s a causal relationship between the bacterial community and [autismlike] behavior.”

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