Thursday 30 August 2018

Mother’s microbiome plays a role in the likelihood of ASD

Mother’s microbiome plays a role in the likelihood of ASD
The likelihood of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is in part determined by the micro-organisms that inhabit the body of the expectant mother during pregnancy. That has been suggested by a new study performed at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in the United States. 

The results of the study provide possible hints for the prevention of autism disorders. That is possible by adjusting the diet and eating modified probiotics. The researchers base their findings on experiments performed on mice. Those experiments have shown that the offspring of mice with an unfavourable microbiome were more susceptible to developmental disorders of the brain.  

Effect of mother’s flora on the brain

The researchers questioned how the mother’s microbiome influences the development of the brain of the unborn child. The study involving mice demonstrated that the offspring of mice with an unhealthy microbiome are more susceptible to autism-like disorders. It was found that the interrelationships are through the immune system and the nervous system. First of all it was found that the microbiome is important in the programming of the immune system of the offspring and the way in which this system responds to stress, injuries and infections. It was also found that interleukin 17a (IL-17a) plays a role in the development of autism-like symptoms.  The study then logically led to two ways in which different types of autism can be prevented. On the one hand, by tackling the unfavourable microbiome and, on the other hand, by switching off IL-17a. It is possible to change the microbiome by changing the diet, through faeces transplantation and/or through the use of probiotics. Inhibiting IL-17a is more complicated. Furthermore, there are associated risks, because IL-17a plays a part in combatting (fungal) infections. Blocking IL-17a therefore increases the risk of infection in the mother and the new-born.


Connected body systems

In summary, the study explains the links between micro-organisms, immune response and the developing brain. The likelihood of disorders relating to autism is partly determined by the collection of micro-organisms in the body (particularly gut flora) of the expectant mother. It must be emphasised that the results obtained from studies with mice must still be investigated in humans before clinical uses are possible. Follow-up research will focus on identifying the properties of the microbiome of pregnant women that are associated with autism disorders.  



John R. Lukens, Catherine R. Lammert, Elizabeth L. Frost and Calli E. Bellinger, Critical roles for microbiota-mediated regulation of Th17 responses in a maternal immune activation model of autism, J Immunol May 1, 2018, 200 (1 Supplement) 166.36;