Gut Microbial Profile Is Associated With the Severity of Social Impairment and IQ Performance in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Front Psychiatry. 2021 Dec 17:12:789864. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.789864. eCollection 2021.


Background and Objective: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a heterogeneous set of neurodevelopmental disorders with diverse symptom severity and comorbidities. Although alterations in gut microbiota have been reported in individuals with ASD, it remains unclear whether certain microbial pattern is linked to specific symptom or comorbidity in ASD. We aimed to investigate the associations between gut microbiota and the severity of social impairment and cognitive functioning in children with ASD. Methods: A total of 261 age-matched children, including 138 children diagnosed with ASD, 63 with developmental delay or intellectual disability (DD/ID), and 60 typically developing (TD) children, were enrolled from the Shanghai Xinhua Registry. The children with ASD were further classified into two subgroups: 76 children diagnosed with ASD and developmental disorder (ASD+DD) and 62 with ASD only (ASD-only). The gut microbiome of all children was profiled and evaluated by 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. Results: The gut microbial analyses demonstrated an altered microbial community structure in children with ASD. The alpha diversity indices of the ASD+DD and ASD-only subgroups were significantly lower than the DD/ID or TD groups. At the genus level, we observed a decrease in the relative abundance of Prevotella. Simultaneously, Bacteroides and Faecalibacterium were significantly increased in ASD compared with DD/ID and TD participants. There was a clear correlation between alpha diversity and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) total score for all participants, and this correlation was independent of IQ performance. Similar correlations with the CARS total score were observed for genera Bacteroides, Faecalibacterium, and Oscillospira. However, there was no single genus significantly associated with IQ in all participants. Conclusions: Specific alterations in bacterial taxonomic composition and associations with the severity of social impairment and IQ performance were observed in children with ASD or ASD subgroups, when compared with DD/ID or TD groups. These results illustrate that gut microbiota may serve as a promising biomarker for ASD symptoms. Nevertheless, further investigations are warranted.

Keywords: 16S rRNA; autism; developmental delay/intellectual disability; gut microbiota; intelligence quotient.