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Prenatal Exposure to 'Good Bacteria' can reduce Risk of Autism

Jun 23, 2020 by Iris Dawn Tabangcora

Exposure to good bacteria can reduce risk of autism

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder claims their recent animal study proves that prenatal microbial exposure reduces inflammation, which has a positive influence on the development of the brain and nervous system in offspring. Stressed pregnant women exposed to beneficial bacteria during the equivalent of the third trimester of pregnancy had their offspring protected from an autism-like disorder.

In the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the study reported that these microbes have immune-modulating mechanisms to reduce inflammation and thereby offer some benefits to optimize nervous system development. This study is the first of its kind to suggest that certain prenatal exposures can influence neurodevelopment. This discovery could open a gateway to new and enhanced prenatal interventions, showing that microbial interventions can lower the risk for autism and other neurodevelopmental syndromes in the fetuses.

It is known that maternal stress is a risk factor for autism, leading researchers to speculate on whether it is possible to use a microbe with immunoregulatory function to prevent the consequences of environmental stressors during pregnancy.

In a previous study, it was found out that terbutaline, a drug used to halt preterm labor, when given to stressed rats, caused autism-like syndrome in their offspring. Symptoms include social deficits and repetitive behavior which are hallmark signs for autism, as well as a seizure disorder likened to epilepsy.

In the study, rats were exposed to mild stress and divided into three groups that received terbutaline, a heat-killed preparation of Mycobacterium vaccae, or no treatment. The group which received terbutaline had their offspring developed autism-like behaviors while those who were immunized with M.vaccae did not, showing it provided some protection against the negative effects of environmental stressors to fetuses.

Researchers emphasize that the study did not try to develop an "autism vaccine," nor do they claim that microbial interventions could reverse autism in children already afflicted.

Scientists concluded that mothers can benefit from lowering environmental stressors while they are pregnant, and should expose themselves to beneficial bacteria through fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.

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