A new study by Melbourne’s RMIT University confirms that a gene mutation which causes problems in the gut also affects the way neurons communicate in the brain.
The gut-brain link
This gene mutation – known as the R451C mutation – has previously been associated with autism, and this gut connection is relatively new. It’s thought that the research could lead to improvements in the wellbeing of people with autism.
“Up to 90 percent of people with autism suffer from gut problems, but nobody has known why,” Science Daily reports.
“New research reveals the same gene mutations – found both in the brain and the gut – could be the cause.”
While this specific mutation is rare, it is one of more than 150 autism-related gene mutations that alter neuronal connections, Chief Investigator Associate Professor Elisa Hill-Yardin, RMIT University said.
“The link we’ve confirmed suggests a broader mechanism, indicating that the mutations that affect connections between neurons could be behind the gut problems in many patients.”
Tweaking the microbes?
This new intel hopes to improve the quality of life for those people, as well as steering research in the direction of this gut-brain association and how it might spark new treatments for autism.
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“It’s a whole new way of thinking about it – for clinicians, families and researchers – and it broadens our horizons in the search for treatments to improve the quality of life for people with autism,” Hill-Yardin said.
“Investigating how gene mutations in the nervous system relate with microbes in the gut” is next on the agenda, Hill-Yardin continued.
“We know these microbes interact with the brain via the gut-brain axis, so could tweaking them improve mood and behaviour?”
“While this wouldn’t reverse the gene mutation, we might be able to tone down its effects, and make a real difference in the quality of life for people with autism and their families,” Hill-Yardin said.