Exposure to ‘Good Bacteria’ During Pregnancy Could Prevent Autism-Like Symptoms, Study Finds
Giving beneficial, or “good” bacteria to stressed mothers during the equivalent of the third trimester of their pregnancy prevents an autism-like disorder in their children, a new study has found. Conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the study is the latest to suggest that exposure to immune-modulating microbes can positively impact the brain and central nervous system by reducing inflammation. The study was published this month in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
In conducting the study, the researchers exposed rats to a mild stressor, and gave them terbutiline, a drug often administered to women to delay pre-term labor, during what would be the equivalent of the third trimester of pregnancy in humans. Half of the rats were injected with a friendly bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae, which has been showing to have lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. A third group of rats received no treatments at all. The researchers found that the offspring of the rats who had been stressed and given terbutaline showed autism-like behaviors, while those who had been given Mycobacterium vaccae did not.
“Immunization with M. vaccae appears to provide some protection against the negative effects of environmental stressors during development, specifically against Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)-like behavior,” Zachariah Smith, a lead author of the study, said.
The researchers clarified that they are not working to develop an “autism vaccine,” and that microbial interventions can reverse autism in children who already have it. The study simply reinforces the idea that exposure to good bacteria can play a critical role in brain development during pregnancy.
“The easiest way to expose yourself to good bacteria is to open your window or just take a walk outside,” Christopher Lowry, a co-author of the study, said.