Microbiome Disturbances and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Drug Metab Dispos. 2015 Oct;43(10):1557-71. doi: 10.1124/dmd.115.063826. Epub 2015 Apr 7.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are considered a heterogenous set of neurobehavioral diseases, with the rates of diagnosis dramatically increasing in the past few decades. As genetics alone does not explain the underlying cause in many cases, attention has turned to environmental factors as potential etiological agents. Gastrointestinal disorders are a common comorbidity in ASD patients. It was thus hypothesized that a gut-brain link may account for some autistic cases. With the characterization of the human microbiome, this concept has been expanded to include the microbiota-gut-brain axis. There are mounting reports in animal models and human epidemiologic studies linking disruptive alterations in the gut microbiota or dysbiosis and ASD symptomology. In this review, we will explore the current evidence that gut dysbiosis in animal models and ASD patients correlates with disease risk and severity. The studies to date have surveyed how gut microbiome changes may affect these neurobehavioral disorders. However, we harbor other microbiomes in the body that might impact brain function. We will consider microbial colonies residing in the oral cavity, vagina, and the most recently discovered one in the placenta. Based on the premise that gut microbiota alterations may be causative agents in ASD, several therapeutic options have been tested, such as diet modulations, prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, postbiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplantation, and activated charcoal. The potential benefits of these therapies will be considered. Finally, the possible mechanisms by which changes in the gut bacterial communities may result in ASD and related neurobehavioral disorders will be examined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / immunology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / microbiology*
  • Dysbiosis / diet therapy
  • Dysbiosis / immunology
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Microbiota / physiology
  • Prebiotics / administration & dosage
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage


  • Prebiotics