The Autistic Gut

Autism spectrum disorder patients contain a unique bacteria

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Parents of autistic children frequently hear about the torment of gastrointestinal problems within their children, and new research sheds insight into what’s really going on.

A research study into the bellies of autistic youth suggests unique bacteria is present in their guts that is not present in non-autistic children.

"Talk to your doctor about treatment for GI issues in autistic children.  "

“Many children with autism have gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances that can complicate clinical management and contribute to behavioral problems,” notes corresponding author on the study, Brent L. Williams, Ph.D., research scientist at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII).

“Understanding the molecular and microbial underpinnings of these GI issues is of paramount importance for elucidating pathogenesis, rendering diagnosis, and administering informed treatment.

“Here we describe an association between high levels of intestinal, mucoepithelial-associated Sutterella species and GI disturbances in children with autism.”

Dr. Williams follows up to explain that past studies indicate the presence of a bacteria of the family Alcaligenaceae in the samples from children with autism spectrum disorder; however no bacteria of this sequence was found in the stomach’s of previous controls. 

Within this most recent review, published in the journal mBio®, the researchers revisited the biopsy material of twenty-three autistic children and nine healthy controls to classify the bacteria of family Alcaligenaceae one step further to determine its genus.

This review concludes the bacteria are of genus Sutterella, which is present in approximately half of children with autism.

According to Dr. Williams, this genus was found in twelve of the autistic patients and zero controls. Further analysis into evolutionary relatedness amongst these microorganisms “revealed a predominance of either Sutterella wadsworthensis or Sutterella stercoricanis in 11 of the individual Sutterella-positive (autistic) patients; in one (autistic) patient, Sutterella sequences were obtained that could not be given a species-level classification.”

Somewhere between three hundred and one thousand different species of bacteria live in the gastrointestinal tract, approximately ninety-nine percent coming from thirty or forty different species. Although most of these live microorganisms live in harmony with the body, assisting in a plethora of development and support functions, some species are thought to cause disease and birth infection.

dailyRx asks contributing expert Robert Pressman, Ph.D., Director of Research at the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, for his professional opinion on the study. The doctor explains that children with autism spectrum disorders fall into several symptom classifications of their own. "For example, in most cases of autism—but not all—there is a companion diagnosis of mild to moderate retardation. In some cases—but not all—there is the presence of hyperactivity," Dr. Pressman expounds.

"This study is important because it presents some carefully laid clues. It is not a causation study; it is an important steppingstone study. It is one that may lead to other studies, which pave the way to understanding more about what may cause autism and conversely what autism may cause."

These new developments do not provide much actionable news to parents without continued research. Though with fortune, current home remedies are being used to calm a troubled tummy in children across the world.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 12, 2012
Last Updated:
January 12, 2012