In a previous post, I discussed how environment is finally, in 2011, receiving some recognition in relation to some cases of autism spectrum conditions (ASCs). It has been a slow process but nevertheless progress has been made moving away from autism being some kind of 'genetics only' condition (where the lion's share of research funding has been committed over the past few years) to one where genes and environment share centre-stage. I might add that I give credit to the notion that autism is not autism but rather autisms as a consequence of the huge heterogeneity and various comorbidities potentially present and that the relative contributions of genes and environment might not be the same for everyone who has autism.
Friday 16th September 2011 is another date for the autism research diary. The reason is the publication of a paper by Brent Williams and colleagues in PLoS ONE (open-access here) and the peer-reviewed revelation that in a small group of children with autism, factors such as gastrointestinal problems, abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and dysbiosis are real and might just be linked.
Without wishing to steal traffic away from the EiR, I have posted two entries already on my blog about the study and the main findings. Viewers can read them here and here. I don't claim to be an expert by the way, just very interested.
If you want the very, very quick overview, it goes something like this:
Fifteen children with autism and GI problems were compared with 7 controls (food allergy). The autistic participants showed specific deficiencies in mRNA for several genes involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Alongside such issues, the ratios between various GI bacterial populations were also altered; more specifically towards a larger Firmicutes and Proteobacteria population. Firmicutes lead to Clostridiales being placed centre-stage. Samples by the way, for bacterial analysis, were biopsy derived gut tissue as opposed to looking in (and culturing) stools.
This is the very quick description of the study but I would urge all interested readers to go to the original text and break out those molecular biology, microbiology and enzymology textbooks (good luck!).
What does it all mean for autism or least some cases of autism?
Dysbiosis exists. How a person breaks down (or not) carbs might tie into their gut bacterial population and possibly their GI symptoms. So then diet might be a factor in some cases of autism after all...?