Doses of a human gut microbe helped to reverse behavioural problems in mice with autism-like symptoms, researchers report today in Cell. The treatment also reduced gastrointestinal problems in the animals that were similar to those that often accompany autism in humans.
The work builds on previous research by Paul Patterson, a neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. In 2012, he and his team created mice with autism-like symptoms by injecting a chemical that mimics viral infection into pregnant mice; those animals then bore offspring that were less sociable and more anxious than wild-type animals. The autistic mice also had 'leaky guts', in which the walls of the intestine break down and allow substances to leak through. Several studies have found that humans with autism are also more likely to have gastrointestinal disorders, suggesting that the two problems may be linked.