select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to study reporting that altered gut microbiome is associated with autism spectrum disorder in children

A study published in Nature Microbiology looks at gut microbiome markers and autism in children. 


Dr Elizabeth Lund, Independent Consultant in Nutrition and Gastrointestinal Health, said:

“This interesting paper uses very powerful analytical techniques to investigate the complexities of the gut microbiome in a large cohort of children. The techniques used identified ASD as being associated with a different profile of, not just bacteria, but of other microbes and associated metabolic pathways. However, the bacterial signature associated with ASD is particularly highlighted. The idea that analysis of stool samples may aid in diagnosis is very exciting, as currently there is a massive backlog in children and adults waiting to be assessed. The current process is very lengthy and there is a shortage of clinicians such as psychologists and psychiatrists trained to carry out a proper diagnosis. Clearly the study needs to be repeated by other groups and in other populations around the world, but the approach might offer a novel and more automated route to diagnosis in the longer term. The researchers quite rightly point out that this data cannot say whether the different microbiome causes ASD or whether differences in the diet, or other environmental factors, associated with children with ASD lead to the observed differences. However, in my opinion dietary preferences in people with ASD are so diverse they are unlikely to cause a consistent difference in the gut microbiome.”


Dr Dominic Farsi, Associate in Nutritional Sciences, King’s College London, said:

“This study applied high-quality statistical and machine learning analyses and have identified both members of the gut microbiome and biological pathways that can discriminate ASD which also carry biological plausibility. These results are novel and could have great potential in diagnostic practice, however, it is important to highlight they are novel, and further research is required to further validate these findings. Notwithstanding, these results could represent a big step towards enhancing diagnostic methods for ASD and developing the mechanistic evidence base.”


Prof Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Research Director of the Centre for Autism at the University of Reading said:

“This study broadens our understanding by including fungi, archaea, and viruses, where previous studies have largely focused on the role of gut bacteria in autism. The results are broadly in line with previous studies that show reduced microbial diversity in autistic individuals. It also examines one of the largest samples seen in a study like this, which further strengthens the results. This is a well designed and executed project that accounted for a range of confounding factors and validated the results in multiple independent samples.

“One limitation of this data is that it cannot assess any causal role for the microbiota, in the development of autism.

“What is exciting about this study is that it opens up the possibility of investigating specific biochemical pathways and their impact on different autistic features. It could also provide new ways of detecting autism, if microbial markers turn out to strengthen the ability of genetic and behavioural tests to detect autism. A future platform that can combine genetic, microbial, and simple behavioural assessments could help address the detection gap.

“With the results of this study, the lens through which we view microbiota within autism has definitely broadened. There is even a possibility to use multi-kingdom microbial markers to aid in autism diagnosis.”


‘Multikingdom and functional gut microbiota markers for autism spectrum disorder’ by Qi Su et al. was published in Nature Microbiology at 16:00 UK time on Monday 8 July. 


DOI: 10.1038/s41564-024-01739-1



Declared interests

Dr Elizabeth Lund:

Trustee of Asperger East Anglia.

Prof Bhismadev Chakrabarti: No conflicts of interest to declare.

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag