Published on September 17, 2011 at 2:22 AM ·
Researchers at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and at the Harvard Medical School report that children with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances have altered expression of genes involved in digestion. These variations may contribute to changes in the types of bacteria in their intestines.
Full study findings are reported online in the journal PLoS ONE.
Autism, which is defined by impairments in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, affects approximately 1% of the population. Many children with autism have gastrointestinal problems that can complicate clinical management and contribute to behavioral disturbances. In some children, special diets and antibiotics have been associated with improvements in social, cognitive and gastrointestinal function.
The investigators found that children diagnosed with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances have abnormalities in levels of genes for enzymes that break down sugars and for molecules that transport them from the lumen of the intestine into the blood. These variations were also associated with changes in the bacterial composition of the intestine.
The researchers examined biopsies from 22 patients, 15 diagnosed with autism and seven typically developing children. They used real-time PCR to measure gene expression and genetic sequencing techniques to characterize the bacteria present in the intestines of each child.