Autism’s Missing Microbes May Influence Social Behavior by Protecting the Gut

For people with autism, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain often go along with the social struggles and repetitive behaviors that define the condition. This has prompted many to wonder whether gastrointestinal (GI) problems arise due to autism’s behavioral or sensory features, or whether they might instead contribute to them. Now, scientists at University of Utah Health have added to mounting evidence showing that microbes that live in our guts influence behavior. Specifically, they found that in mice, frequent gastrointestinal distress can reduce social behaviors—an effect that persists even after GI symptoms have subsided. They also showed they could alleviate both GI symptoms and the behavioral changes they provoke by introducing specific species of bacteria into the animals’ guts. The new study, recently published in Nature Communications, demonstrates that it is possible to impact health and behavior by manipulating the gut microbiome in a controlled way. The open-access article is titled “Colitis Reduces Active Social Engagement in Mice and Is Ameliorated by Supplementation with Human Microbiota Members.”

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