The number of bacteria in our guts outnumbers the cells of our body. That fact alone makes them a worthy target for research. There is an estimated 1 kilogram of bacteria within each average human adult. Predominantly known for their role in digestion, the range of gut bacteria's influence is only slowly becoming better understood. Gut microbes produce neuroactive compounds and are now known to significantly alter cognitive function and behavior patterns. The so-called gut-brain axis also plays an important role in the early development and maturation of the immune and endocrine systems. The latest study to examine the impact of gut bacteria on neurological behavior is published this week in the journal Cell.
Gut bacteria and autism
The Baylor College team demonstrated that by adding a single, specific species of bacteria into the guts of mice that displayed autism-related social behavior, they could reverse some of the deficits. Past research into modifying autistic behavior has focused on affecting change via electrical brain stimulation. As Mauro Costa-Mattioli, the senior author of the current study, says, "here we have, perhaps, a new approach."