People with autism often suffer from gut problems, but nobody has known why. Researchers have now discovered the same gene mutations — found both in the brain and the gut — could be the cause.

The discovery confirms a gut-brain nervous system link in autism, opening a new direction in the search for potential treatments that could ease behavioural issues associated with autism by targeting the gut.

Chief Investigator Associate Professor Elisa Hill-Yardin, RMIT University, said scientists trying to understand autism have long been looking in the brain, but the links with the gut nervous system have only been recently explored.

“We know the brain and gut share many of the same neurons and now for the first time we’ve confirmed that they also share autism-related gene mutations,” Hill-Yardin said.

“Up to 90% of people with autism suffer from gut issues, which can have a significant impact on daily life for them and their families.

“Our findings suggest these gastrointestinal problems may stem from the same mutations in genes that are responsible for brain and behavioural issues in autism.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking about it — for clinicians, families and researchers — and it broadens our horizons in the search for treatments to improve the quality of life for people with autism.”

Read more at RMIT University