A study involving one type of bacteria and mice could be a key for treating symptoms of autism. The study, published in Cell, comes from the Baylor College of Medicine and found that mice that lacked a particular bacteria in the gut have more behavioral deficits. However, once the mice that lacked the bacteria were introduced to it, the symptoms reversed.
The senior author of the study, Mauro Costa-Mattioli, revealed that many studies about autism have focused on the brain and “behavioral symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders,” but that this is an entirely new approach – “an extremely exciting way of affecting the brain from the gut.”
Researchers fed 60 female mice an extremely high-fat diet, while another group had a normal diet. They then waited for all female mice to bear young. All the babies stayed with their moms for about three weeks until they could be weaned and fed an average diet. The mice from the moms that were fed a high-fat diet exhibited autism-like behavior, such as not initiating social interactions and generally spending more time alone.
Researchers then looked at the microbiome of both sets of mice and found that one type of bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri, was reduced nine-fold in the mice from the high-fat diet. However, after the two sets of mice were introduced to each other, the autistic-like mice began to exhibit less symptoms. Why? Well, because mice eat each other’s poop, which means the bacteria-deficient mice suddenly gained more Lactobacillus reuteri bacteria.
They also found that L. reuteri increased the production of oxytocin – a hormone known to increase happy feelings and bonding in humans.
The authors don’t yet know if this treatment would work on humans, but they are hopeful.
“We could potentially see this type of approach developing quite quickly not only for the treatment of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) but also for other neurodevelopmental disorders; anyway, this is my gut feeling,” Costa-Mattioli said.