The gut microbiota is essential for healthy physiology, and a growing body of research has implicated it in the pathogenesis of several chronic diseases, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Understanding the mechanisms by which gut microbiota may influence the neurobiology of ASD is an important gap in the research.
Microbiota transfer (MT) is a promising therapeutic strategy that aims to transfer intestinal microbes from non-clinical subjects to patients to alleviate symptoms and/or promote health.
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), comprises a diverse set of conditions that can make certain modes of verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, and many other skills challenging. Described best by the Autism Self Advocacy Network, every autistic person experiences varying degrees of severity, but there are some things that many have in common.
About 1 in 54 children are affected by the invisible condition. In some cases, therapy can reduce symptoms and mitigate some of the challenges autistic people can face, but there is no cure or all-encompassing treatment.
Accordingly, the disorder’s causes are largely unknown. Researchers attribute the complex condition to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Progress in genomics (DNA) research has sped up the discovery of risk factors for the disorder; however, the genetic and environmental variety across the autistic population added further complexity that’s worth a closer look.
The Breakthrough: The Gut-Brain Axis’
The Gut-Brain Axis describes the bidirectional communication roadways between the gut microbiome and the mind.
How is the gut involved in autism? There are significant differences between gut microbiota populations within neurotypical children and those within ASD children. Also, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are four times more common within the ASD population than in others. The connection between ASD and gut dysfunction, when paired with ASD’s diverse set of neurodivergent symptoms, suggests that the Gut-Brain Axis may play a role in the chronic discomfort that comes from the condition.
This association can be leveraged to develop novel therapeutic strategies for ASD mediated by microbes. One promising new treatment utilizes such an approach uses fecal transplants from neurotypical donors to restore healthy gut bacteria in ASD children, ameliorate gastrointestinal symptoms, and even provide therapeutic benefits.
Perhaps the most common application of microbiota transfers is that towards debilitating GI infections that persist despite antibiotic therapy. Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) is one of the most well-known of such an infection. The success of microbiota transfers towards treating the infection provides insight that the therapy can be applied to other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or even the common peanut allergy.
One landmark study evaluated the long-term efficacy of such a microbiota transfer therapy for autism in humans. In an open-label trial with eighteen participants, the therapy provided improvements for GI symptoms, autism-related symptoms, microbial diversity, and relative abundances of beneficial species within the microbiome. These improvements were sustained and were documented after a follow-up two years after the initial treatment, and some participants even reported stronger improvements after the end of treatment in some parameters.
Such promising results of long-term safety and efficacy of microbiota transfers provide hope for the future of gut health and its connection to autism. To close, gut health may be the key to help alleviate symptoms for those challenged by autism. Custom probiotics provide a targeted approach to gut health, which may be particularly beneficial for those challenged by autism. Floré can help.