The findings of a new study which has been conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder show that giving ‘good bacteria‘ or probiotics in the third trimester of pregnancy can successfully help in the prevention of autism-like disorder.
More specifically, the scientists discovered symptoms of an autism-like disorder were absent in offsprings of rats exposed to stressors and given good bacteria.
On the other hand, rats who received conventional medication given to pregnant women for relieving stress had offsprings that displayed the signs of the autism spectrum disorder.
The study, whose findings are now published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, concluded that administrating certain medications containing good bacteria helps in reducing inflammation in the body, which, in turn, has a positive effect on the central nervous system (CNS) and the brain.
According to the researchers, the study is among the very few that look at the possible effects of interventions during the third trimester of pregnancy that can have an impact on the neurodevelopment of the fetus.
While the researchers agreed that more investigation is required on the matter, they are certain that the findings can pave the way for newer developments and plans for the prevention of disorders such as autism in the future.
The associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology, Christopher Lowry, who is also the co-author of the study, explained the findings, saying “It suggests that you could develop microbial interventions that lower the risk of neurodevelopmental syndromes like autism,”
The professor of psychology and neuroscience and the senior investigator of the study, Daniel Barth, also explained that previous research has established how exposure to stressors can lead to high levels of inflammation in the body of the pregnant woman as well as the fetus.
These elevated levels of systemic inflammation can significantly increase the risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders, including those that fall under autism spectrum disorders.
Prior to the new research, Barth and colleagues tested the drug terbutaline on rats. Terbutaline is commonly prescribed to pregnant women for delaying preterm labor around the world.
However, Barth found that the offsprings of the rats who were given terbutaline displayed symptoms of the autism-like disorder such as repetitive behavior and lack of social skills along with a seizure disorder similar to epilepsy.
Zachariah Smith, who is the first corresponding author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher in Barth’s lab, said that the long-term primary goal of the study is to see whether good bacteria can be used to prevent the effects of exposure to stressors during pregnancy like autism spectrum disorders.
In the new study, the team gave the terbutaline to one group of the rats during the time period which would be considered the third trimester of pregnancy in humans while the other group was given injections of the good bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae), which is known to have anti-inflammatory effects. The third group received no treatment.
Two months after the rats gave birth, the offsprings were tested for displaying signs of autism spectrum disorder such as repetitive behaviors and for social skills.
It was then found that the rats who were given terbutaline had offsprings with an autism-like disorder. On the other hand, the offsprings of rats which received M. vaccae injections did not display any such symptoms.
However, the injections did not prevent epilepsy-like seizures. According to the researchers, a longer treatment may be able to help with epilepsy but a lot of further investigation is needed.
The researchers also cautioned that their findings do not suggest that giving probiotics or good bacteria after the child has developed autism will cure the disorder. Therefore, good bacteria is any form should not be given to children unless they are prescribed by a doctor.