Columbia University Medical Center

Uncommon Bacterium Found in Guts of Children with Autism


Researchers at Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) have discovered an uncommon bacterium, Sutterella, in the intestines of 12 of 23 children who had both autism and GI problems. The study’s 9 control subjects, who had GI problems but not autism, were negative for the bacterium.

Children with autism frequently suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances such as abdominal pain, constipation, and vomiting. Because they often struggle to communicate their symptoms to adults, their GI problems are routinely overlooked. Their chronic discomfort can then contribute to their social and behavioral difficulties.

Studies have shown that the gut microorganisms of children with autism differ from those of their non-autistic peers. Sutterella may be an opportunistic bacterium that takes advantage of the absence of certain vital microorganisms in the guts of children with autism.

For this study, the researchers developed a highly sensitive molecular assay for Sutterella, which should aid future research on the bacterium.

The study was published in the January 10, 2012 issue of mBio. The CII-affiliated authors are Brent Williams, PhD; Mady Horning, MD; Tanmay Parekh, BS; and W. Ian Lipkin, MD.

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