The microbiota-gut-brain axis and its potential therapeutic role in autism spectrum disorder

Neuroscience. 2016 Jun 2;324:131-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.03.013. Epub 2016 Mar 8.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a series of neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterized by deficits in both social and cognitive functions. Although the exact etiology and pathology of ASD remain unclear, a disorder of the microbiota-gut-brain axis is emerging as a prominent factor in the generation of autistic behaviors. Clinical studies have shown that gastrointestinal symptoms and compositional changes in the gut microbiota frequently accompany cerebral disorders in patients with ASD. A disturbance in the gut microbiota, which is usually induced by a bacterial infection or chronic antibiotic exposure, has been implicated as a potential contributor to ASD. The bidirectional microbiota-gut-brain axis acts mainly through neuroendocrine, neuroimmune, and autonomic nervous mechanisms. Application of modulators of the microbiota-gut-brain axis, such as probiotics, helminthes and certain special diets, may be a promising strategy for the treatment of ASD. This review mainly discusses the salient observations of the disruptions of the microbiota-gut-brain axis in the pathogenesis of ASD and reveals its potential therapeutic role in autistic deficits.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; brain; microbial metabolites; microbiota; probiotics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / microbiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Brain / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans