Microbiome may influence the health of some people diagnosed with autism

Science and Health

A pioneering collaborative study conducted by a global team of microbiome experts has uncovered compelling evidence linking the gut microbiome to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The study, involving researchers from the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Safed and researchers in the US, UK, Switzerland, Ecuador, Russia, Italy, and China and in partnership with the Israel Autism Biobank and Registry sheds light on the dysregulation of the gut-brain connection in individuals with autism and explores the potential for microbiome-based therapeutic interventions. 

The study has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience under the title “Multilevel analysis of the gut–brain axis shows autism spectrum disorder-associated molecular and microbial profiles.”

Microbiome changes are a common characteristic linked with autism

In simple terms, the study identified consistent differences in the gut microbiome of individuals with autism across various cohorts around the world. (A cohort is a group of people with a shared characteristic.) This suggests that microbiome changes are a common characteristic linked with autism. The researchers also noticed correlations between microbiome changes and immune factors, including the inflammatory marker IL-6, in people with autism. Pilot studies involving fecal microbiome treatment showed the ability to impact the microbial species found in ASD.

“Our collaborative study presents a significant breakthrough, revealing the profound influence of the gut-brain axis on the biology of autism,” said Azrieli Prof. Evan Elliott, a key researcher involved in the study. The correlation between microbiome alterations and immune system markers provides valuable insights into how the gut microbiome may influence the health of individuals diagnosed with autism. Ingesting pills with fecal bacteria for modulating relevant microbial species represents a promising avenue for future therapeutic interventions, he added. 

Prof. Evan Elliott (center) with members of his lab (credit: Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University)

The implications of these findings are far-reaching, the team said, and they support the idea that targeting the gut-brain axis could serve as a therapeutic approach for a specific subgroup of individuals with autism. “By identifying specific markers of gut-brain dysregulation, clinicians may be better equipped to determine which individuals are most likely to benefit from microbiome-related treatments. This personalized approach holds the potential to significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for those on the autism spectrum.”

Moving forward, an in-depth analysis of metabolome and immune system characteristics 

Looking ahead, the researchers plan to build upon their findings by conducting an in-depth analysis of metabolome and immune system characteristics in individuals from the Israel Autism Biobank and Registry. (The metabolome is the qualitative and the quantitative collection of all metabolites present in the cell that are required for the maintenance, growth and normal function of a cell.) 

The Israeli-focused study deepens the understanding of the intricate connection between the gut microbiome and its effects on host biology in autism, they said, adding that the team will work closely with affected families to gather additional information crucial for unraveling these complex interactions and informing future therapies.