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Gut Microbes Linked to Autism-Like Symptoms in Mice 160

sciencehabit writes "Many physicians and parents report that their autistic children have unusually severe gastrointestinal problems, such as chronic constipation or diarrhea. These observations have led some researchers to speculate that an ailing gut contributes to the disorder in some cases, but scientific data has been lacking. Now, a provocative study claims that a probiotic treatment for gastrointestinal issues can reduce autismlike symptoms in mice and suggests that this treatment could work for humans, too."
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Gut Microbes Linked to Autism-Like Symptoms in Mice

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  • They may need to find some other disorder to explain their anti-social behaviour and make them feel special.

  • Reminds me of when illness/death comes from some bad source of food and impacts a swath of people. It's always interested me to know how quickly and by what process the source is discovered. I know that when I feel weird and suspect bad food it's a bit of a challenge to think absolutely thoroughly back through every last thing I ate over the past X hours/days. I wonder if there are many other common threads such as this that might yield clues if researchers had more complete knowledge of every person wit

    • The thing is that if it's gut microbes, then good food will cause problems too. It will depend exactly what the bacteria's preferred food source is though. And toxins from bacteria in your stomach can absolutely affect your mood and ability to function.

      • The thing is that if it's gut microbes, then good food will cause problems too.

        I'll just leave [] this [] here. And over there, and there, and some over there, and some in the air... Of course, that's a virus, not bacteria, but the principle is the same. What's in the food can feed or kill off what's in your gut already, or the food can be contaminated, and the contamination can outcompete or otherwise interfere with the biota upon which you depend for proper digestive function. Either one can wreak havoc on your digestive system. And let us not forget antibiotics' influence on your GI tra

    • Re:common threads (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @07:28AM (#45617403)

      They make people take a "food diary" when they think there's some sort of dietary involvement in a problem. You write down everything you consume so that you don't have to remember what you had in the three days before that migraine or outbreak of stomach cramps, or whatever. Could be interesting to blanket-issue food diaries and health questionnaires to a large population.

      • The problem with food diaries is that some disorders take a long time to manifest, and a long time to clear up.

        I have a sibling who suffered from chronic diarrhea for most of his adult life. It turned out he had undiagnosed celiac disease (inability for his digestive system to tolerate gluten from grains). He had tried a gluten free diet for weeks at a time many times just as an experiment, and it didn't help. It turns out that some celiac suffers need to eat fanatically gluten free (including using
      • by cusco ( 717999 )

        I suspect you'll see a lot of the same phenomena that Neilson Ratings used to encounter, where people wrote down that they had watched a National Geographic documentary instead of the 'The Man Show' that they actually watched. Probably the count of diary-noted rice cakes would exceed the number of rice cakes manufactured by an order of magnitude.

  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @06:56AM (#45617311)

    Does it want to watch Wapner? Can it count cards? We need to come up with a better way of testing stuff out than on mice.

    • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @07:02AM (#45617327)

      Mazmanian and colleagues at Caltech used a mouse model of autism that is thought to approximately recreate three of the disorder's hallmark deficits: lack of social interaction, decreased communication (mice normally emit ultrasonic, birdsonglike chirps), and repetitive behaviors such as compulsive grooming or burying marbles.

      They discovered increased levels of a particular bacterial metabolite in untreated autism-model mice versus normal mice or treated autism-model mice. Interestingly providing that metabolite to healthy mice increased anxiety but didn't cause any of the characteristic autistic symptoms.

    • You can identify an autistic mouse the same way as an autistic human, or any other mammal: Look inside its brain.

      Seriously? Gut bacteria... For neurological structural issues? I mean, that's like blaming a fever on a nasal drip, or blaming a warp core breach on a tachyon emitter malfunction.

      Look, we need to just ditch psychology. That's just confirmation bias: "Autism like", fucking please stop. Let the folks like neurologists and cyberneticians, who study how behaviours actually occur via observable ev

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        Wow, you are so dumb.

        Please stop reading sensationalist journalism. Then learn the difference between psychology and psychiatry and who invented the dsm. Then learn about how 'medical' science in the US is driven by corporate greed.

        Then learn how dumb you are because it's psychology that actually does more real 'science' than medical science. You might like to learn that modelling is used in ALL areas of science as well.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @07:07AM (#45617337)

    Firstly, they discovered that the autistic-model mouse had very different gut biota and suffered from digestive tract issues. The new bacterium didn't establish itself, but it did perturb the gut bacteria community to be closer to control mice, and reduced digestive tract issues.

    Secondly, they discovered that this perturbation reduced the autism-model symptoms in the autism-model mice quite markedly.

    Thirdly, they discovered a gut metabolite that was elevated in untreated autism-model mice versus control mice or treated autism-model mice. However providing that metabolite to control mice only caused an increase in anxiety behaviours, and not the specific autistic ones. So it's not just the metabolite which is responsible for the behaviours.

    I wonder if there's some underlying difference in the neurology of the autism-model mice such that the metabolite "sets off" the autism-model behaviours rather than anxiety. Or perhaps the metabolite causes anxiety in both communities but the anxiety only then "sets off" the autism-model behaviours in the autism-model mice.

  • "Probiotic" is the little Shibboleth that makes this smell like woo.

    I'm reminded of a whole mountain of crackpottery peddled by violently unethical shysters and borderline criminal pseudoscientists, for private profit.

    • "Probiotic" is the little Shibboleth that makes this smell like woo.

      If poop transplants [] can drastically improve health, why couldn't regulating your digestive system with probiotics? Yogurt is a probiotic. It has proven related health benefits. You're FUDding. Are you invested in Big Pharma? Or are you just being a dick?

      • Poe.

      • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
        There is a vast difference between fecal transplants and the "probiotics" that you find in the healthfood section of your local store. The key difference is that one has been proven to work in rigorous and repeated scientific study, and the other has not. That said, I think what TFA is talking about is closer to to a fecal transplant where existing gut bacteria are cultured from the control mice and transferred to the model mice.

        And before you ask no, I'm not heavily invested in big pharma. I am, however
        • There is a vast difference between fecal transplants and the "probiotics" that you find in the healthfood section of your local store.

          Yes, that's true. The former is for use in emergencies. The latter is what you use to avoid getting into an emergency situation. Because as it turns out, your intestines are possibly the home of your immune system in a very real way. Your gut bacteria turn out to be very important to immune defense, and what you eat has a direct influence on your gut bacteria. In particular, eating a lot of sugars feeds the harmful organisms and permits them to outcompete the beneficial ones.

          The key difference is that one has been proven to work in rigorous and repeated scientific study, and the other has not.

          Yes, that's what the FDA says ab

      • If you had a structural defect, like a broken arm, and I prescribed yoghurt... You'd be pretty pissed off that I didn't tell you it was just calcium you needed and that I didn't mend your arm. You should be equally upset if you had a mental structural defect [] and I told you to go eat shit.

  • Wakefield II (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gallenod ( 84385 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @07:36AM (#45617433)

    Isn't this the same thing Wakefield was trying to prove before he committed research fraud and started the whole "vaccines cause autism" nonsense?

    • His research was ostensibly to show whether the MMR vaccine - specifically the measles component - was the source of the digestive problems. The idea that the vaccine caused both the digestive problems and the autism was made up out of whole cloth for a press conference, to be blunt.

      Wakefield was in the employ of lawyers at the time - he received government legal aid money, in fact - who were pursuing the autism-vaccination claim. Of course even if such a link could be found statistically, the strong causal

      • Actually, you know what? This is wrong. Somehow my memory has completely overstated the measles thing - perhaps because it was pretty robust research - and completely neglected that the paper also had an autism hypothesis.

      • And, of course, Wakefield had his own MMR-replacement vaccine that he wanted to bring to market. So if he could prove that the MMR wasn't safe, he could swoop in, market his replacement, and make a lot of money. Of course, the anti-vax folks (and Wakefield himself) like to ignore this piece and accept Wakefield as being completely anti-vaccine.

        • Why is "but he wanted money" always used to discredit someone being controversial and "but they make money" also not a point to consider that companies would cover up a causal link.

          I'm not endorsing or dismissing Wakefield, but it's not like there is any way to FIGHT the entrenched immunization market without making money. Why can't a person make money solving a problem they just revealed to everyone?

          Pure altruism seems to always be demanded if someone is fighting the status quo -- yet the status quo must a

          • Because he didn't disclose this. If you disclose a conflict of interest, people can take it into account when they are listening to your argument. However, if you hide the fact that you stand to make a lot of money if your "study" is accepted because you already have an alternative ready to be marketed, it leads people to think the possibility of monetary gain might have led you to alter your study to come to the "right" conclusion.

    • "we all know Wakefield was committing fraud..."

      Right. The more corporate profit affects public discourse, the more certain we've become about CERTAIN FACTS.

      The link between autism and stomach bacteria was also picked up by a lady by the name of Donna Gates who has been pushing the "Body Ecology Diet." I've been listening to her for a little over two decades and this link between stomach bacteria and a whole host of behavioral and health issues comes as no surprise.

      I think that most food cravings, for instan

  • by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @07:42AM (#45617455)
    If zis is vot zey call gut bacteria I'd hate to see bat bacteria
  • Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

    by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @08:38AM (#45617627)

    Of course gut microbe play a role. Some aggressive species are able to attack the gut's cells, which cause the leaky gut syndrome, where food proteins not completely digested can enter the bloodstream. The immune system will seek and destroy them, every day, on every meal. That can trigger allergies and autoimmune diseases.

    Moreover proteins from milk and wheat contains sequences that are hard to break down, and that can activate morphine receptors in the brain. They are called caseomorphins and gliadomorphins. Some (but not all) autists have success in reducing their symptoms by adopting a diet without diary product and gluten, and it is suspected this is for that reason.

  • I know people who have made great strides is the symptoms of their autistic children by changing their diet and especially cutting out gluten. I thought there was already a known connection between the gut bacteria and autism. Oh, well. Sometimes it takes the mainstream a while to catch up on what some people are figuring out.
    • by TemperedAlchemist ( 2045966 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @10:46AM (#45618427)

      It's anecdotal and has no empirical backing. Pilot studies [] aren't showing promise, but a larger study is required to make any definitive conclusions.

      It's likely because of the incidence of intestinal disorders, namely celiac disease, switching the diet is providing treatment for the specific disorder improves their children's symptoms, but isn't actually affecting the underlying autism.

      • Also, most parents report improvement when their children are on restrictive diets due to confirmation biases and how our minds work. When something is difficult to do we usually will notice and remember the evidence that it worked. Keeping children on a restrictive diet is hard to do. In order to not feel bad about putting in all of this hard work for no result, parents tend to "see" the improvements even though empirical evidence has shown that special diets do not affect ASD symptoms.
      • by g00ey ( 1494205 )
        I have an idea here; closer examinations have shown that the intestines actually contain brain tissue or at least brain-like tissue. Such tissues have also been found in other organs, but particularly in the intestines. Other studies have also found that drugs such as SSRI and tranquilizers also affect the intestines, even to such a degree that treatments of some cases of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) with such medications have been successful. So the 'function' of this 'brain tissue' in the intestines app
      • switching the diet is providing treatment for the specific disorder improves their children's symptoms, but isn't actually affecting the underlying autism.

        LOL. The "symptom" is being non-functional and impaired IQ. If mitigating the symptoms means the child functions at a higher level, then let's throw out 90% of the "treatments" which don't cure that we get prescribed. And forget about anti-depressants because that's just a symptom suppressant as well.

        I'm going to go ahead and say that the next GREAT medic

    • I thought there was already a known connection between the gut bacteria and autism.

      The best anyone can really say at this point is that gut bacteria might play a role in some peoples autistic symptoms, but certainly not all. It's not a panacea by a long shot. Some autistic children do see some improvement through the use of specialized diets. Others see no change at all. I'm the father of an autistic child who falls into the latter category -- on a typical diet she shows no propensity to constipation, diarrhoea, or other obvious digestive issues, and on a gluten and dairy free diet, s

  • ... about the gut, you always wonder if scientists are giving you the straight shit.
  • Considering that most of the cells "inside" the body (if you don't think of the human system as a torus)
    are non-human and form an entire ecosystem that digests nutrients out of the substances we ingest,
    it makes sense that good digestion is as fundamental to us as it is to a tree (which also relies on an exterior soil ecosystem).

    This would also coincide with the apparent disease-like spread of autism thru the population.
    The spread of autism also displays a flavor of inheritance and we aren't completely
    • The "disease-like spread" of autism is a myth. What's really happening is that detection is getting better and better. Decades ago, you'd classify a child as "just shy" or "anti-social" or "odd ducks" and write them off (or try helping them but fail). If the child was far enough on the Autism spectrum, the child would be locked up and never spoken of again. (The family's "dirty little secret" of little Johnny who is kept locked up in his house and never allowed to interact with anyone else because nobod

      • Depressingly enough this is what I believe also in regards to the rise in autism's prevalence. As a parent it kills me a little every time I see one of those shows on TV where they investigate special rooms in houses, typically in the attic or basement, where there is no doornob on the inside and the space has childrens belongings inside.

  • "All I know is my gut says 'maybe'."

    'Maybe' onto something here.
  • I have just calculated that in my head. Am I safe?

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      No. You're either autistic since you remembered a useless fact like there's ~ 100 trillion, or you're a social loser for looking something like that up just to make a very bad joke.
  • I have two close friends whose children each had symptoms similar to Asbergers/Autism whose lives have been transformed by changing their diet in ways that are generally aligned with the ideas in this study (unhealthy bacterial conditions in gut cause undigested proteins to leak through the gut into the bloodstream, where they cause problems when they bind to receptors in brain or other tissues).

    There is a strict diet called the GAPS Diet [] that both of these families followed and they began to see substanti

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson