Microbiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Currently researched by Giselle Wong


Autism is a major human health issue, affecting as many as 1 in 68 children.  Gastrointestinal problems, perhaps indicative of a disrupted (dysbiotic) microbial community in the gut, are commonly associated with ASD.  A number of recent studies have also indicated differences in the gut microbiomes of people with and without ASD, though few consistent patterns have yet emerged.  Mouse models of ASD have revealed the ability of certain bacterial strains to reverse some ASD-associated behavioural symptoms and to correct imbalances within the gut microbiota, while a particularly fascinating recent study has shown the potential for microbiota transfer therapy (faecal microbiota transplantation) to ameliorate both gut and behavioural issues in young people on the autism spectrum.


In order to better understand the role of the gut microbiome in ASD, we are investigating the composition and activities of the faecal microbiota among people with ASD.  This work is done in close collaboration with University of Auckland geneticists Jessie Jacobsen, Russell Snell and Klaus Lehnert, as well as Auckland neurologist Roz Hill.  We are also exploring the role of the gut microbiome in a mouse model of ASD, with our neurophysiologist collaborators Johanna Montgomery and Chantelle Fourie at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research.  As with all of our research, we utilise a range of molecular and bioinformatics approaches for our studies on the gut microbiome and ASD.


Our ASD research fits within the wider framework of the Minds for Minds research network (www.mindsforminds.org.nz).  The network brings together researchers across a broad range of disciplines, including genetics, neurophysiology, psychology, education, immunology, and of course microbiology, with a shared passion for improving our understanding of what causes ASD.  A charitable trust, run entirely by volunteers who generously give up their valuable time, aims to generate funding to support the work of the Minds for Minds researchers.  Sign up at the Minds for Minds link above if you wish to register for our study and/or stay informed by receiving our regular newsletter.


Check out the recent publication by the Minds for Minds team:

Virues-Ortega, J., Lehnert, K., Swan, B., Taylor, M.W., Southee, A., Dougan, D., Taylor, J., Hill, R., Snell, R.G., and Jacobsen, J.C. (2017) The New Zealand minds for minds autism spectrum disorder self-reported cohort. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 36: 1-7.