TUESDAY, Jan. 10, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Children with autism have bacteria in their gut that is different from the bacteria seen in kids who do not have the disorder, researchers have found.
In their report, published Jan. 10 in the online journal mBio, researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City suggested that this finding could help explain the link between autism and gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammation.
The study authors added, however, it is still unclear if these differences are a cause of autism or a result of the condition.
"The relationship between different microorganisms and the host and the outcomes for disease and development is an exciting issue," the study's editor, Christine Biron, a professor of medical science at Brown University, said in an American Society for Microbiology news release. "This paper is important because it starts to advance the question of how the resident microbes interact with a disorder that is poorly understood."
The researchers found a relatively large amount of Sutterella bacteria in 12 out of 23 tissue samples taken from the guts of children with autism. In contrast, they did not find this type of bacteria in any samples taken from children without autism who were studied for comparison.
"Sutterella has been associated with gastrointestinal diseases below the diaphragm, and whether it's a pathogen or not is still not clear," explained a reviewer of the research, Jorge Benach, chairman of the microbiology department at Stony Brook University. "It is not a very well-known bacterium," he pointed out in the news release.
The findings are significant because digestive complications can be very serious in kids with autism, contributing to their behavioral problems, the study authors noted.
The study results are also more definitive than previous studies that used stool samples, because tissue samples surgically removed from the gut are more reflective of the bacteria found in the children's intestinal walls.
While the study uncovered an association between the bacteria and autism, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, so more research is needed to explore the link between Sutterella and gastrointestinal problems in autism, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development has more about disorders associated with autism.