People with autism often suffer from gut problems, but nobody has known why. Researchers have now discovered the same gene mutations - found both in the brain and the gut - could be the cause. The discovery confirms a gut-brain nervous system link in autism, opening a new direction in the search for potential treatments that could ease behavioral issues associated with autism by targeting the gut. Chief Investigator Associate Professor Elisa Hill-Yardin (photo), PhD, RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said scientists trying to understand autism have long been looking in the brain, but the links with the gut nervous system have only been recently explored. "We know the brain and gut share many of the same neurons and now, for the first time, we've confirmed that they also share autism-related gene mutations," Dr. Hill-Yardin said. "Up to 90% of people with autism suffer from gut issues, which can have a significant impact on daily life for them and their families. "Our findings suggest these gastrointestinal problems may stem from the same mutations in genes that are responsible for brain and behavioral issues in autism. It's a whole new way of thinking about it - for clinicians, families, and researchers - and it broadens our horizons in the search for treatments to improve the quality of life for people with autism." The study reveals a gene mutation that affects neuron communication in the brain, and was the first identified as a cause of autism, also causes dysfunction in the gut. The research brings together new results from pre-clinical animal studies with previously unpublished clinical work from a landmark 2003 study led by Swedish researchers and a French geneticist.
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