Study Links Microbiome Composition to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Israeli researchers have discovered a potential link between microbiome composition and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that causes repetitive behaviors and decreased social communication in affected individuals. Scientists have spent the past few decades trying to learn about the underlying mechanisms that trigger the condition and its symptoms.

Although research shows that cases of autism spectrum disorder are on the rise, scientists still don’t understand what causes the neurodevelopmental disorder. Some posit that rare gene mutations or changes coupled with small genetic variations in ASD patients may be responsible for causing the condition.

Researchers from Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine have now found that the microbiome, a collection of viruses, bacteria and fungi that live in and on the body, may be connected to autism spectrum disorder development. After analyzing gut microbiome diversity in a cohort of 96 individuals diagnosed with autism and 42 neurotypical individuals, the researchers found that individuals with autism spectrum disorder had a higher abundance of certain types of bacteria.

Furthermore, the analysis pointed to major differences in beta and alpha diversity in participants diagnosed with ASD. The research team unexpectedly found an increase in the measure of microbial diversity, referred to as alpha diversity, as well as an increase in the genus Bacteroides and the phylum Bacteriodetes in ASD patients. Since lower alpha diversity is traditionally associated with poor health in various medical conditions, the study’s findings challenged the established notion that reduced alpha diversity was inherently tied to poor health.

The findings show that Bacteroides, which typically occur in the human gut microbiome, may harm human health when their numbers rise.

Lead study author and Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine professor Evan Elliott partnered with Professor Omry Koren, an Azrieli Faculty microbiome expert, to study the probable functional consequences of changes in the microbiome using mouse models. They found that newborn mice infused with the Bacteroides fragilis bacteria exhibited gene expression dysregulation, increased repetitive behaviors and social behavior dysfunction. Elliott said the research indicated that Bacteroides overabundance “may have functional consequences” for ASD patients, especially if it occurs in early life.

However, the research team notes that these effects mostly occurred in male mice while female mice exhibited no behavioral deficits after Bacteroides fragilis treatment, suggesting that male individuals may be more vulnerable to environmental factors that contribute to autism spectrum disorder.

The researchers published their findings in the journal “Biofilms and Microbiomes.”

For companies that are looking to develop treatments targeting ASD, such as PaxMedica Inc. (NASDAQ: PXMD), the findings of this study may provide food for thought in their future R&D activities.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to PaxMedica Inc. (NASDAQ: PXMD) are available in the company’s newsroom at https://ibn.fm/PXMD

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