Bacteria living in the gut are linked to neurodevelopmental symptoms in the mice, reveals study published in Cell. What's more, when researchers treated those animals with bacteria found in the healthy gut, a number of behavioral abnormalities including anxiety-like behavior largely went away.
"Several studies have shown that the microbiota can influence a variety of behaviors, from anxiety and pain to social and emotional behavior," said Elaine Hsiao from the California Institute of Technology. "Our work is the first to demonstrate that modulating the microbiota can influence autism-related behaviors in the context of a disease model."
Although the researchers urge caution, the findings link at least some symptoms of ASD to the gut and suggest that probiotics might have a therapeutic role in such cases. They say clinical trials are now needed to gather the evidence to verify this link found in mice.
When the mice were given oral doses of the human gut microbe Bacteroides fragilis, their gastrointestinal and behavioral abnormalities were relieved. Further work showed that MIA mice have altered blood levels of some metabolites, many of which are modulated by B. fragilis. When otherwise normal mice were treated with a metabolite found at elevated levels in MIA animals, they too showed certain behavioral abnormalities, suggesting a direct link between gut bacteria, metabolites, and behavior.
"Taken together," the researchers concluded, "these findings support a gut-microbiome-brain connection in a mouse model of neurodevelopmental disorders and identify a potential probiotic therapy for gastrointestinal and behavioral symptoms in human disorders, including autism."