Autism Risk Determined by Mother’s Microbiome


The risk of developing autism-spectrum disorders is determined by the mother’s microbiome during pregnancy, according to a new study.

Recent studies suggest that autism-spectrum disorders are often associated with dysregulated immune responses and microbiome dysbiosis. But, no one knows how interactions between the gut microbiome and immune system contribute to the development of such neurodevelopmental disorders. 

To get a better understanding, scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine analyzed pregnant women’s microbiomes to determine the child’s risk of developing autism. Then, asked if this finding could be used to stop the development of neurodevelopmental disorders in mice.

The researchers found that the risk of developing autism-spectrum disorders is determined by the mother’s microbiome during pregnancy.  And blocking the inflammatory immune molecule Interleukin-17a (IL-17a) could prevent autism-like neurodevelopmental disorders developing in mice.

The work raises the very exciting possibility that preventing forms of autism could be as simple as an expectant mother modifying her diet or taking custom probiotics.

In fact, targeting or modifying the microbiome is a much safer strategy than trying to block IL-17a because it’s an important factor in helping the body to fight off infection.

The study reveals how important the microbiome is in calibrating how a child’s immune system will respond to infection, injury or stress; showing how an unhealthy maternal gut microbiome can cause problems such as making her unborn offspring susceptible to neurodevelopmental disorders.

The next step for the team is to figure out how specific microbiome features in pregnant mothers correlate with autism risk and how other facets of the immune system contribute.



Lammert CR, et al. Cutting Edge: Critical Roles for Microbiota-Mediated Regulation of the Immune System in a Prenatal Immune Activation Model of Autism. The Journal of Immunology. 2018 Jul 2:ji1701755.