Researchers organize to decipher possible role of gut bacteria in autism

May 8, 2015, Co-Action Publishing

Autism: for a condition that continues to confound researchers and physicians alike, Dr. Richard E. Frye, Director of Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) autism research program, believes that research into the role of the microbiome could hold a key to new treatments and understanding of autism.

Last summer, Dr. Frye led a group of international, pioneering physicians and scientists, as well as parents, at the 1st International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism. At this historic conference researchers called for a new frontier in science and autism research: the connection between the enteric (gut) microbiome and autism.

 "Mounting evidence shows us that there is a link between the gut and brain; that the gut may have previously under-recognized influences on cognition and possibly even behavior," said Dr. Frye, a leading autism researcher who serves as Director of both ACH's Integrated Autism Research Program and Autism Multispecialty Clinic.  "Several lines of research also point to the possibility that changes in the gut either cause or are highly associated with driving core ASD () symptoms." The microbiome-autism connection is one of several promising avenues being examined as part of their integrated research program at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute.

The gathering included a first-of-its-kind conference to discuss topics related to autism and the microbiome, as well as a separate interdisciplinary working group session that examined how to best design a clinical trial to further elucidate the potential role of the microbiome in autism.

The results of the meeting have been published as a collection of articles in the international, peer-reviewed journal "Microbial Ecology in Heath and Disease". Dr. Frye is co-author of multiple articles in the special issue, including one that came directly out of the working group session being published today titled: "Approaches to Studying and Manipulating the Enteric Microbiome to Improve Autism Symptoms."

While an increasing number of studies have shown a deviation in the composition of the bacteria found in the gut of children with ASD, when compared to that found in typically developing children, to date, no clear consensus exists explaining why, according to John Slattery, CCRP. Slattery is the clinical research program manager at ACHRI's autism research program, and co-author of the article. 

"This paper lays the groundwork for clinical trials intended to determine if some children with ASD respond to therapy aimed at modulating or manipulating the gut microbiome (GM) and if so, why?," said Slattery. "If the GM truly plays a causative or even contributory role in ASD, then we could be potentially talking about a new therapeutic approach to improve ASD symptoms". Reaching that point, though, requires "highly controlled clinical trials in which the GM is systematically manipulated," wrote Dr. Frye and Slattery in the article.

Slattery is hopeful recent findings will lead to more funding for autism research, generally speaking, as well as more funding related to the possible microbiome-autism connections specifically. "When talking about autism research – and the potential these new discoveries represent—the most pressing issue is funding.  Historically speaking funding for that looks beyond the conventional view that autism is an inherited disorder of the brain is next to impossible to obtain".

 "Without funding, we are left speculating and wondering "what if?" and as the clock ticks by more and more children and their families continue to suffer. We truly believe a major breakthrough is right around the corner, but funding this type of research is a tremendous challenge that crosses many medical disciplines and is very complex. We think we may be honing in on a possible final common pathway that may "tip the ship" so to speak for certain children at critical time points during development to increase their risk for going on to develop an ASD. The exciting thing about this view is that, if we are right, we may be able to intervene and really change things in a major way," Slattery says.

Frye went on to say, "Fortunately for us we were able to have this ground breaking conference and working group through a joint sponsorship by the Arkansas Autism Alliance, Arkansas Children's Hospital, and the N of One: Autism Research Foundation, but this is hopefully only the beginning, as much more work needs to be done to better the lives of children with autism and their families."

Explore further: Child with autism improves with antibiotic; prompts new investigations into autism

More information: "Approaches to studying and manipulating the enteric microbiome to improve autism symptoms," Microbial Ecology in Health & Disease 2015, 26: 26878 - dx.doi.org/10.3402/mehd.v26.26878

Related Stories

Child with autism improves with antibiotic; prompts new investigations into autism

March 24, 2015
John Rodakis, the parent of a child with autism was not looking to launch an international investigation into the microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live on and in us) and autism, but, as he describes in his ...

Another study finds no link between vaccine, autism

April 21, 2015
Yet another scientific study has found no link between autism and the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), according to US research published on Tuesday.

Can a parent's concerns predict autism?

April 23, 2015
As co-director of the University of Alberta's Autism Research Centre, Lonnie Zwaigenbaum has devoted much of his career to understanding how to identify autism as early as possible. But despite his years of experience, Zwaigenbaum ...

Autistic children more likely to have GI issues in early life

March 25, 2015
Scientists at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health report that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were two-and-a-half times more likely to have persistent gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms as infants ...

Heritability of autism spectrum disorder studied in UK twins

March 4, 2015
Substantial genetic and moderate environmental influences were associated with risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and broader autism traits in a study of twins in the United Kingdom, according to an article published ...

Discovering age-specific brain changes in autism

March 26, 2015
The field of autism research has tried to find a central theory underlying brain changes associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now, a new study shows that individuals with the disorder exhibit different patterns ...

Recommended for you

Nearly imperceptible fluctuations in movement correspond to autism diagnoses

January 17, 2018
A new study led by researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University provides the strongest evidence yet that nearly imperceptible changes in how people move can be used to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, including ...

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Being bilingual may help autistic children

January 16, 2018
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently ...

No rise in autism in US in past three years: study

January 2, 2018
After more than a decade of steady increases in the rate of children diagnosed with autism in the United States, the rate has plateaued in the past three years, researchers said Tuesday.

Autism therapy: Brain stimulation restores social behavior in mice

December 13, 2017
Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.