New study probes gut microbe autism link

La Trobe University microbiologist Associate Professor Ashley Franks is part of a  team of researchers, including the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, who have joined with industry to explore the genetics underlying  autism and changes to the gut.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects almost quarter of a million Australians.

As well as challenges in social communication and repetitive behaviour, people with ASD often have gastrointestinal problems like bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Gut bacteria, or microbiota, are known to affect mood and behaviour.

The new study announced today will explore a compound developed by the biopharmaceutical company Immuron  — anti-LPS IMM-124E — and the changes it brings about to the microbiota in mice.

By exploring the biome, or the genetic make-up, of these bacteria, researchers hope to pinpoint specific microbes as targets for new therapies that would restore gut balance in the hope of developing treatments to improve the quality of life for people with autism.

Dr Franks, Director of La Trobe's Applied and Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, said the research, led by University of Melbourne neuroscientist Elisa Hill, will map microbes in the gut to understand how the brain and bacteria interact.

Previous suggestions of a link between autism and gut bacteria had been controversial, but Dr Franks said it was important to map these microbes to understand the interaction between bacteria and the brain.

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Image: Flickr SanShoot