Microbiome’s Influence on the Etiology of Autism is Far From Settled

January 24, 2022

New Response Suggests “Picky Eating” Isn’t Only Reason for Differences in Gut Microbiota

An Australian study released last November claimed that gut health was in “no way a cause of why the brain develops differently” in individuals with autism. Moreover, lead author Chloe Yap and her colleagues concluded in their study that any observed microbiome differences were caused by the picky eating habits of children with autism. This research produced a great deal of media attention, but not everyone agreed with the study’s conclusion. Last week, a response to Yap’s study was generated by two researchers, Ezgi Ozcan and Elaine Hsiao. The pair of doctors theorize that changes in the gut microbiome can be both a contributing factor and consequence of autism. Ozcan and Hsiao do not completely agree with the Australian study’s conclusion and believe that Yap studied the children too late, after they had already developed autism and certain behaviors like picky eating had been established. Due to this reason, the team feels that Yap and colleagues could not know if the microbiome played a role in the causal pathway of autism for these children or not. Additionally, Ozcan and Hsiao point to previous research which demonstrated that certain maternal gut bacteria could promote neurodevelopmental abnormalities in offspring, another factor that was not addressed in the Yap research. Furthermore, the pair point to another study where fecal microbiota transplantation was implemented, which altered the microbiome and improved autism-like behaviors in children on the spectrum. Given these previous relevant studies, Ozcan and Hsiao suggest that the altered microbiome that Yap and colleagues found to be associated with picky eating, may not be just a downstream unrelated effect. Ultimately, the team believes that a prospective study, before autism onset occurs, is the way to ascertain if an altered microbiome, either in the mother or child, leads to the behaviors of autism.


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