Autism-related dietary preferences mediate autism-gut microbiome associations

Cell. 2021 Nov 24;184(24):5916-5931.e17. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.10.015. Epub 2021 Nov 11.


There is increasing interest in the potential contribution of the gut microbiome to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, previous studies have been underpowered and have not been designed to address potential confounding factors in a comprehensive way. We performed a large autism stool metagenomics study (n = 247) based on participants from the Australian Autism Biobank and the Queensland Twin Adolescent Brain project. We found negligible direct associations between ASD diagnosis and the gut microbiome. Instead, our data support a model whereby ASD-related restricted interests are associated with less-diverse diet, and in turn reduced microbial taxonomic diversity and looser stool consistency. In contrast to ASD diagnosis, our dataset was well powered to detect microbiome associations with traits such as age, dietary intake, and stool consistency. Overall, microbiome differences in ASD may reflect dietary preferences that relate to diagnostic features, and we caution against claims that the microbiome has a driving role in ASD.

Keywords: autism; autism spectrum disorder; brain-gut-microbiome axis; diet; gut microbiome; metagenomics; restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests; stool consistency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / microbiology*
  • Behavior
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Species Specificity