The past years have been characterized by an unrelenting effort to gain insight into the enigmatic origins of Autism. Amidst this search, some researchers have proposed that a modified gut microbiome may primarily contribute to the manifestation of ASD symptoms. Though numerous studies have suggested such correlations, unlocking the truth has proven to be an exceptionally daunting task due to the intricate nature of the human microbiome.
Recent Microbiome-Autism Research
Recently, however, a group of scientists has achieved a breakthrough by publishing an article in Nature Neuroscience; this research postulates that temporal changes to the gut microbiome composition and its relationship with observable traits and symptoms observed in individuals with ASD have been firmly established. In other words, they claim they can now unequivocally link changes in the microbial environment of the gut to ASD characteristics.
For those unfamiliar, the gut – or, to use more colloquial terminology, the digestive system – is a bustling hub for various microorganisms. From these minuscule organisms exists bacteria, both beneficial and detrimental. What must be understood is that sustaining a healthy equilibrium between good and bad bacteria plays an integral role in digestion, metabolism, immunity, and overall well-being. If an imbalanced quantity of either beneficial or detrimental bacteria arises, health complications may potentially arise.
The hypothesis of a link between gastrointestinal microorganisms and Autism is not new, though; it began to be evaluated in the 1990s when parents started to observe changes in their children’s conduct after they took antibiotics.
This directed an immense amount of research with results that suggest discrepant alterations in the gut microbial composition of those with ASD. Nevertheless, these discoveries were not consistent with one another.
The Research Procedure
To avoid further inconsistent research that would later prove to be fruitless, the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) hired Dr. Gaspar Taroncher-Oldenburg, an independent scientist, to scour through the existing landscape of microbiome research related to Autism. Taroncher took on the challenge and, in partnership with the esteemed computational biologist and computer scientist Dr. Jamie Morton – who was at the time a postdoc at the Flatiron Institute associated with the Simons Foundation – they worked together to push the boundaries of their research.
In an Interview with Euronews Next, Taroncher recalled their process of examining the data from the past decade or so to decode a pattern that seemed to be hiding amongst all the potential causes, such as diet and immune system. “We needed to take a step back and look at it all with a new angle,” he said.
They assembled 43 elite scholars from all corners of the planet to reexamine 25 previously published datasets containing microbiome data and other “omic” information such as diet details, immune system reactions, markers of inflammation, and gene expression profiles in the brain. However, this process was not seamless as was predicted.
There were many obstacles to overcome during the analysis, including combining all the data from the 25 studies to make direct comparisons. The investigators did not only consider more than 25 examinations, but they also went a step further. Instead of just finding an average for each study, they formed a copious number of pairs of both autistic and non-autistic children. Then they consolidated the results from every study. This was where an encompassing signal emerged, according to Morton, the computational biologist working with Troncher.
Study results were startling, with a discernible correlation between the microbiome and various genetic components of the immune system being detected. Moreover, striking ties to the microbiome and diet were observed, many linked to neurological pathways essential for brain signaling.
This discovery somewhat surprised Morton, who commented that “the association is real – that is the take-home from our study. The mechanics of it still have to be worked out.”
However, Taroncher-Oldenburg is adamant that they have not created a list of bacteria and have been extremely cautious. He also adds that genes and their functions within the microbiome may be more critical to assess. Morton also emphasizes how the dietary preferences of those on the autism spectrum can significantly influence the dysregulation of one’s microbiome, noting that those on the spectrum tend to have very particular habits regarding ingestion. Thus, elucidating such insights could prove invaluable in future studies.
While this research is still in its infancy stages, Researchers look forward to its relevance to its clinical contexts. Currently, ABA therapy treatment is the only long-established procedure used to address Autism effectively. It improves social interactions, communication abilities, and behavioral responses in the spectrum. ABA therapy can be administered in multiple locations such as the home, school, or clinic. If your loved one is on the autism spectrum, ABA therapy could provide an effective solution.
Recently, Nevada has joined other states by requiring insurance companies to cover ABA therapy expenses – reducing financial strain on those affected by Autism. To find out more about Nevada’s initiatives and ABA therapy, please click here.