Gut-Brain Connections With Autism, New Study Reveals


It was suggested in 2018 in a report that 1 in every 59 children are diagnose with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While the condition is incurable and requires the parents to be supportive of their children, there is one thing that is common in every autistic child – Gut problems. Prior studies have pointed out the mismatch but they couldn’t judge why the same happens. A new study has been successful in finding what the problem is.

A new study (R) conducted by the researchers from the RMIT University revealed the reason behind the frequent problems with one’s gut health in the people suffering from autism. They were successfully able to find that a similar gene mutation in the gut and the brain could very well be the reason behind the condition altogether.

This specific research paper delves their focus on establishing a potential gut-brain link in the condition of autism which could be the trigger behind the issues that one faces. This specific discovery could very well be helpful and effective in searching through some of the potential treatment for the treatment of the condition by directly targeting the gut.

Elisa Hill-Yardin, who is the Associate Professor in RMIT University and the Chief Investigator of the study suggested saying that till now, the researchers have been focusing on just the brain activity and functions. The possible link with the gut was a very recent finding that this study has explored around.

Hill-Yardin further said that it is known to the researchers that the brain and gut do share same neurons but it is the first time that they have established the link behind the fact that they do share autism related gene mutations as well.

Clarifying further, she said that around 90% of the patients of Autism suffer from gut problems which does affect their as well as their family’s life. This study has been conducted accordingly to help establish the fact that the gastrointestinal gene mutations along with the brain function genes could be the contributing factor to the behavioural issues that one face.

This opens up a completely new spectrum of thoughts and possibilities for the clinicians, patients and even the families involved. It is going to help broaden the horizon for the treatments to help improve the condition in children suffering from autism.

Autism gene with the gut-brain link

This specific study revealed that there is a gene mutation which hampers and inhibits the neuron communication in the brain and was associated with being the primary cause behind autism has been found to cause dysfunction in the gut as well.

The prior study was conducted on two autistic brothers by Professor Christopher Gillberg (University of Gothenburg), Professor Maria Råstam (Lund University) and Professor Thomas Bourgeron (Pasteur Institute), who were the ones first to discover the impacts of the specific gene mutation as a possible cause behind this neurodevelopment disorder.

The study conducted in 2003 was specifically focused on identifying the genetic basis of the condition but two of the researchers also emphasised their focus on the gastrointestinal health of the participants.

Straying some insights from this study, the researchers from the RMIT University started exploring more into the clinical aspects of this. They conducted a series of studies focusing on the function as well as the structure of the gut in the mice which have been tested out positive for the similar “Velcro” gene mutation.

Some of the common side effects or impacts that the researchers witnessed from this included:

  • Affects Contractions in the gut
  • Affects the total number of neurons present in the small intestine
  • Affects the speed in which the bolus travels down the GI tract
  • Affects the rate of response to some of the critical neurotransmitter associated with autism

Professor Ashley Franks, who is the collaborator associate from the La Trobe University found significant changes and differences in the gut microbiome as well.

While the prospect of the “Velcro” mutation being so rare, it is believed to be one of the 150-autism related mutations that ends causing drastic changes to the neuronal connections in autistic patients. The link that the researchers have confirmed from this that the mutations behind these could very well be the connecting dots for the progression of the condition of autism.

Gut brain axis

Hill-Yardin suggested saying that the finding of the study could very well be the contributing factor that helps identify a new target for the development of specific therapies which are designed specifically for the neurotransmitter in the gut.

She further stated that they need to further work on identifying how the existing medications for autism that target the neurotransmitters in the brain react with the gut health.

Yet another one of the prominent and promising paths for the future research is investigating and finding out how the gene mutations around in the nervous system would correlate with the microbes present in the gut.

The researchers are aware of the fact that these microbes tend to interact with the brain via the gut brain axis. They want to see if tweaking any part of that channel could end up positively influencing the mood and the behaviour in the individuals suffering from autism.

The lead investigator of the study further said that even though this isn’t capable of reversing the gene mutations, they could be helpful enough in taming some of the symptoms and help swerve through the reactions in a controlled way. The researchers want to find whether or not the future investigation into the treatment options for autism could help in finding better relief for not just the patients but their families as well.