13 January 2012
Researchers mull bacterium's link to autism
by Will Parker
The bacterium Sutterella was found to be present at remarkably high levels in the gastrointestinal tracts of children with autism and scientists at Columbia University are pondering what the connection might be.
The intriguing study, published in the journal mBio, notes that children with autism frequently have gastrointestinal problems, but the underlying reason that autism is associated with these gastrointestinal disturbances is unknown.
To investigate further, the researchers examined intestinal biopsies from 32 patients - 23 with autism and 9 normally developing children. While previous studies investigating a link between the microbiota and autism have utilized stool samples, this study was unique in investigating bacteria adherent to the intestinal wall, which may be different to those that are eliminated in the stool.
Study leader Brent Williams said that over half of the children diagnosed with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances had Sutterella in their biopsy tissue, while Sutterella was absent in biopsies from typically developing children with gastrointestinal disturbances. He added that not only was Sutterella present in the intestines of children with autism, but relative to most other bacteria, Sutterella was present at "remarkably high levels."
Williams was cautious about drawing conclusions from such a small group of subjects and said further research into the relationship between bacteria and autism was needed. "These findings shine a light on a bacterium about which we know very little, in a disorder for which we have few answers. There is much work to be done toward understanding the role Sutterella plays in autism," he concluded.
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