brian wang

The risk of developing autism-spectrum disorders is determined by the bacteria inside the pregnant mother.

Preventing forms of autism could be as simple as an expectant mom modifying her diet or taking custom probiotics.

Development of autism-like neurodevelopmental disorders was prevented in lab mice. They cab halt the development of such disorders by blocking a particular inflammatory molecule produced by the immune system. Targeting this molecule, interleukin-17a, offers another potential avenue for preventing autism in people, the researchers say. This approach would be much more complex because of the risk of side effects.

“We determined that the microbiome is a key contributor in determining susceptibility [to autism-like disorders], so it suggests that you could target either the maternal microbiome or this inflammatory molecule, IL-17a,” said lead researcher John Lukens of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience. “You could also use this [IL-17a] as a biomarker for early diagnosis.”

The good news: The microbiome can be modified easily, either through diet, probiotic supplements or fecal transplant. All of these approaches seek to restore a healthy equilibrium among the different microorganisms that live in the gut – although researchers cannot yet offer specific dietary recommendations.

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