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Children With Autism and Abdominal Pain Have Distinctive Bacterial Profiles

September 12, 2017
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The microbiome may harbor causes of abdominal and behavioral issues and potential targets for relief.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and functional abdominal pain may have a distinct microbiome-neuroimmune profile compared to kids with gastrointestinal disorders (GI) and those with no GI illness.

Building on others’ research showing that Clostridia bacteria in the gut are altered in children with ASD, a team from six institutions shows the organisms interact with intestinal mucosa and are associated with altered neuroimmune signaling, indicated by changes in inflammatory cytokine, tryptophan and serotonin levels.

The findings add to the growing evidence demonstrating the brain-gut microbiome complex plays a significant role in ASD.

“The study gives a hint we might be able to identify certain biomarkers and bacterial profiles that are associated with abdominal pain in children with ASD,” says Kent Williams, MD, an attending gastroenterologist, investigator at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study, published recently in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

“The big idea is if we can identify some way to manipulate the microbiome, we might be able to manipulate and improve children’s behaviors – providing not only relief from gastrointestinal issues but also improvement in oppositional and rigid behaviors,” Dr. Williams says.

The researchers analyzed rectal biopsies and blood from 14 children with ASD and functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID), 15 typically-developing children with FGID and six typically-developing children without it.

They found a marked increase in mucosa-associated Clostridiales bacteria species and decreases in Blautia, Dorea and Sutterella among the ASD-FGID group. Within the group, multiple organisms correlated significantly with cytokines, tryptophan and serotonin but at differing levels among the children who reported pain versus those who didn’t, giving each subgroup a unique profile.

Ruth Ann Luna, PhD, director of Medical Metagenomics at the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center at Texas Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study, has also found the recurrence of many of the same organisms in increased abundance in the stools of a child with ASD.

“In the related study, we were also able to layer on changes in the microbiome with changes in GI symptoms and changes in behavior,” Dr. Luna says.

She and Dr. Williams are now involved in a 300-child study in which they hope to verify their findings and reveal biomarkers that may be used to identify specific subtypes of autism and potential targets for therapy. They are also looking for markers they can use to help identify which nonverbal children with ASD have abdominal pain.

 

Reference:

Luna RA, Owzguen N, Baldeeras M, Venkatachalam A, Runge JK, Versalovic J, Veenstra-VanderWeelee J, Anderson, GM, Savidge T, Williams KC. Distinct Microbiome-Neuroimmune Signatures Correlate With Functional Abdominal Pain in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2016 Dec 11;3(2):218-230.

Photo credit: Nationwide Children’s