Press release

Gut microbiota, key element to understand autism

01/06/2017

Through sophisticated metagenomics and bioinformatics techniques, italian researchers from the Cnr - Italian Research Council - and University of Florence characterized the bacterial and fungal gut microbiota in a cohort of autistic individuals. The study, pulished on ‘Microbiome’, underlines the importance of the microbiome as biomarker and therapeutic target, in dietary intervention studies for the improvement of the quality of life of ASDs patients 

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by social and behavioral impairments. In addition to neurological symptoms, autistic subjects frequently suffer from gastrointestinal abnormalities, thus implying a role of the gut microbiota in ASD gastrointestinal pathophysiology.

By using Next Generation Sequencing, Italian researchers from Cnr (Italian Research Council) and colleagues from the University of Florence, from the ‘Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Senese’ and  Fondazione Edmund Mach  (Trento) characterized the bacterial and fungal gut microbiota in a cohort of autistic individuals demonstrating the presence of an altered microbial community structure.

The research, coordinated by Carlotta De Filippo from the Cnr - Institute of biology and agricultural biotechnology (Ibba-Cnr), examined the composition of the intestinal microbiota of adult subjects with autism, that represent the set of microorganisms that 'live' human gut. In fact, it is known that metabolites present in the gut microbiota are able to 'pass' the intestinal barrier and produce effects on the nervous system. "We analyzed the composition of the microbiota in subjects suffering from gastrointestinal disorders, a very common discomfort among people with autism. The aim was to characterize the microbial communities differentiating patients from healthy subjects. Metagenomic studies have great potential to unravel the connection between microbiota and disease and, ultimately, evaluate the influence of environmental or food factors", says the researcher.

"In the subjects under examination, the profile of five microbial genera and fungi, including coliforms, Clostridium and Candida, appear to be increased when the severity of the symptoms increases. We also found the presence of Escherichia coli, characteristic of inflammatory states", continues the researcher. "Although we have not yet defined an autism specific microbial profile, this information is valuable: immediately will allow us to identify dietary intervention by integrating probiotics and prebiotics in order to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms. In perspective, further studies stemming from our results will elucidate the relationship between diet and disease, allowing novel therapeutic intervention for the improvement of patient’s health".

This is the first study that also assessed the role of the mycobiome, the fungal communities, discovering that the genus Candida was twice more abundant in the autistic than neurotypical subjects. Thus besides the bacterial gut microbiota, also the gut mycobiota represents a potential hallmark of disease. The research, published on 'Microbiome' journal, underlines the importance of the microbiome as biomarker and therapeutic target, in dietary intervention studies for the improvement of the quality of life of ASDs patients.

 

Rome, June 1st, 2017

For further information: Carlotta De Filippo, Ibba-Cnr, ph: +39/055/2758322, email: carlotta.defilippo@ibba.cnr.it