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Autism may be linked to changes in the gut microbiome, study says

Bacterial and non-bacterial components present in the intestinal microbiome may be related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children, according to a new study published in Nature Microbiology on Monday (8). The research suggests that a set of these components could be useful in improving how the disorder is diagnosed.

The gut microbiome is the set of genes of the microbial population — fungi, bacteria, protozoa and viruses — that lives in the human intestine. It is part of the so-called intestinal microbiota, which plays an important role in the digestion of food, the synthesis of vitamins and acts in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and dopamine (the pleasure hormone).

The relationship between the gut microbiome and autism has been the subject of previous research, but it has not focused on changes in the composition of gut bacteria in people with autism compared with neurotypical (non-autistic) people. It was not clear whether other members of the gut microbiome, such as archaea (bacteria-like microorganisms), fungi and viruses, as well as genes, are altered in people with autism.

The researchers then performed metagenomic sequencing on fecal samples from 1,627 male and female children with and without ASD, aged 1 to 13 years, in China. They analyzed these samples with data on factors such as diet, medication and comorbidities.

After controlling for these factors that could interfere with the results, the study authors identified 14 archaea, 15 bacteria, seven fungi, 18 viruses, 27 microbial genes and 12 metabolic pathways altered in children with ASD.

Then, using machine learning (a type of artificial intelligence), the scientists created a model based on a panel of 31 microorganisms that was able to identify with greater accuracy (82%) male and female children with ASD.

According to the researchers, this means that these 31 markers may have clinical diagnostic potential, making it easier to identify the disease. Currently, autism is diagnosed based on information about the child’s behavior and neurodevelopmental aspects, such as learning and language difficulties, unexplained agitation and repetitive behaviors.

Additionally, the study’s findings may inform future work on the relationship between the gut microbiome and autism.

However, the study has limitations: the data do not allow us to determine whether differences in the gut microbiome cause autism or whether they are consequences of diet and other environmental factors related to children living on the spectrum. In addition, the research needs to be replicated by other groups and in different populations to validate the results.

Check out signs that may indicate autism spectrum disorder

Source: CNN Brasil

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