The gut has its own nervous system that could be influencing—or possibly even causing—autism, say researchers who have discovered the same gene mutations in the brain and gut of children with autism.
Researchers have been almost exclusively looking at the brains of sufferers to understand the problem, but researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia say that the gut is just as significant, and perhaps even more so.
The researchers started looking at the gut after realising that around 90 per cent of children with autism also had gastrointestinal problems that are so severe that they can have "a significant impact on daily life," said lead researcher Elisa Hill-Yardin.
The researchers discovered a gene mutation in the gut of sufferers that affects neuron communication in the brain, and specifically interferes with the way that neurons 'stick together' and stay in close contact.
The mutation also causes gut problems by affecting gut contractions, the number of neurons in the small intestine, the speed that food moves through the intestine, and the way a critical neurotransmitter, known to be a factor in autism, responds.
The discovery throws open autism treatment and suggests that a focus on neurotransmitters in the gut could hold the key to autism recovery.