How Your Gut And Brain Actually Talk Could Yield Answers About Autism

Kylie Perry August 30th 2017 Science
For years, doctors and researchers have been convinced that brain function and gut bacteria are linked, but the means have never actually been proven. While there is plenty of evidence that suggests the two are connected, a recent discovery may provide the answer to how the two are connected. Strangely enough, this discovery may also explain how autism develops. Researchers have been working diligently to put the pieces together and may soon have answers to some big questions.
Cortisol could be the hormone with the answers
New research found that the hormone cortisol may act as a messenger that helps gut bacteria "talk" to the brain. "Changes in neurometabolites during infancy can have profound effects on brain development and it is possible that the microbiome - or collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses inhabiting our gut - plays a role in this process," says neuroscientist Austin Mudd from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
It was discovered that when Bacteroides and Clostridium were present, there was a higher concentration of myo-inositol in the brain. At the same time, Butyricimonas in the gut predicted n-acetylaspartate (NAA) in the brain. So, what does this even mean? Well, these chemicals can not only weigh on a person's metabolism, but they have previously been identified "as a significant factor in autism research," according to Science Alert. And to think, all of this research was conducted using piglets. No, seriously -- see how next slide.
Newborn piglets were studied
"[We] wanted to see if we could find bacteria in the faeces of piglets that might predict concentrations of compounds in the blood and brain, both of which are more difficult to characterise in [human] infants," Mudd explained. And so, 24 piglets born one month prior were taken in for research. The connection between the brain and the gut -- and the bacteria that predicted NAA and other chemicals in the brain -- may lead to the answers we so desperately need.
"These brain metabolites have been found in altered states in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet no previous studies have identified specific links between bacterial genera and these particular metabolites," Mudd said. While this won't provide a cure for autism -- at least not in the near future -- it is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to understanding the condition and if bacteria in the gut is related to hormones in the brain that cause it. How big a deal is this exactly?
This could really be a big deal
"This mediation finding is interesting, in that it gives us insight into one way that the gut microbiota may be communicating with the brain. It can be used as a framework for developing future intervention studies which further support this proposed mechanism," said team member Ryan Dilger.
If this is indeed the way that the brain and the gut communicate, there may be even more answers uncovered in the near future. The connection could be responsible for numerous conditions that plague us like strokes, Parkinson's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more. Of course, there's a long way to go when it comes to making a definitive connection. Future clinical trials and additional research studies will hopefully further these findings. "Initially, we set out to characterize relationships between the gut microbiota, blood biomarkers, and brain metabolites. But once we looked at the relationships identified in our study, they kept leading us to independently reported findings in the autism literature," said Mudd.
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