New research points to a possible link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the gut microbiota as many autistic children have co-occurring gastrointestinal problems. This review focuses on specific alterations of gut microbiota mostly observed in autistic patients. Particularly, the mechanisms through which such alterations may trigger the production of the bacterial metabolites, or leaky gut in autistic people are described. Various altered metabolite levels were observed in the blood and urine of autistic children, many of which were of bacterial origin such as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), indoles and lipopolysaccharides (LPS). A less integrative gut-blood-barrier is abundant in autistic individuals. This explains the leakage of bacterial metabolites into the patients, triggering new body responses or an altered metabolism. Some other co-occurring symptoms such as mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress in cells, altered tight junctions in the blood-brain barrier and structural changes in the cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and cerebellum were also detected. Moreover, this paper suggests that ASD is associated with an unbalanced gut microbiota (dysbiosis). Although the cause-effect relationship between ASD and gut microbiota is not yet well established, the consumption of specific probiotics may represent a side-effect free tool to re-establish gut homeostasis and promote gut health. The diagnostic and therapeutic value of bacterial-derived compounds as new possible biomarkers, associated with perturbation in the phenylalanine metabolism, as well as potential therapeutic strategies will be discussed.
Keywords: ASD; Autism; gut-brain-axis; microbiota; microbiota-gut-brain-axis; prebiotics; probiotics.