Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Role of Gut Microbes in Autism

The Role of Gut Microbes in Autism

By Elisa Hill-Yardin & Ashley Franks

Gut microbes can modify our mood and even change our behaviour. They’ve now been implicated in a neuronal mutation found in the gut and brain of autistic patients.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Autism and gut problems go hand-in-hand. As well as having impaired social and communication skills plus repetitive and/or restricted behaviours, patients with autism are four times more likely to be admitted to hospital with gastrointestinal issues. Gut problems include constipation that often alternates with diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating and vomiting. It remains a mystery why gut dysfunction is so common in autism.

Neuronal Genes in Autism

While hundreds of genes contribute to autism, no single gene is implicated in more than 2–3% of autism cases. Many of the gene mutations implicated in autism help neurons communicate via synapses between brain cells.

Mice engineered to express these gene mutations have been helpful in progressing research into autism. When mutations found in human patients are expressed in mice, the mice also show autism-like behaviours. Many autism mouse models show altered brain activity that resembles what is seen in some human autistic patients due to changes at the synapse.

We are investigating whether faulty connections between neurons cause gut issues in autism involving changes in microbes.

A Second Brain: The Nervous System of the Gut

The gut has its own brain. The enteric nervous system is made up of two mesh-like networks of neurons sandwiched between muscle layers in the gut wall. These...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.