Could probiotics work against the symptoms of autism? Recent rodent research yielded intriguing results that suggest the cause of the condition may lie in our gut.
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine discovered that when mice are missing one specific species of bacteria in their gut, they exhibit anti-social behaviors similar to autism. When the scientists added the bacteria back to the mice’s systems, they were able to reverse some of the behaviors, according to a release about the research from Cell, where the results have been published.
"Other research groups are trying to use drugs or electrical brain stimulation as a way to reverse some of the behavioral symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders—but here we have, perhaps, a new approach," senior author Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, said in the release. "Whether it would be effective in humans, we don't know yet, but it is an extremely exciting way of affecting the brain from the gut."
The researchers believe that their work, which uses a human bacteria species to promote oxytocin levels and improve social behavioral deficits in mice, could be explored as a probiotic intervention for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in humans. Check out a video explaining the study (including cartoons of hoops-playing, high-fiving mice) and how the bacteria affected rodent behavior.
"This is where the science is unexpectedly leading us," said Costa-Mattioli. "We could potentially see this type of approach developing quite quickly not only for the treatment of ASD (autism spectrum disorders) but also for other neurodevelopmental disorders; anyway, this is my gut feeling." A growing body of research connects the gut microbiome and brain disorders. Last year, a Finnish study was the first to show that probiotic supplementation early in life may help reduce the risk of brain disorders, like ADHD and ASD, in children.