A mother’s microbiome — the collection of microorganisms that naturally live inside us — during pregnancy plays a critical role in determining the risk developing autism-spectrum disorders, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests. The work raises the tantalizing possibility that preventing forms of autism could involve modifying an expectant mom’s diet or taking custom probiotics.
Further, the UVA scientists were able to use their discovery to prevent the development of autism-like neurodevelopmental disorders in lab mice. They found they could halt the development of such disorders by blocking a particular inflammatory molecule produced by the immune system. Targeting this molecule, interleukin-17a, offers another potential avenue for preventing autism in people, the researchers say. They caution, however, that this approach would be much more complex because of the risk of side effects.