Chinese scientists have discovered that the absence of a certain protein in fruit flies causes an imbalance in intestinal microorganisms, with the flies showing symptoms similar to autism in humans.
Led by Liu Xingyin, a professor at Nanjing Medical University in Jiangsu province, the research team said the discovery could lead to a new theoretical path for treating autisms based on digestion and immune activities.
Liu said the deficient fruit flies kept their distance from one another, were slow to respond and had reduced direct contact with other flies.
“All of these phenomena are similar to the communication disorders of people with autism,” Liu said ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on Tuesday.
The study shows that without the protein KDM5, the lining of the flies’ intestines became damaged and their microorganisms became unbalanced.
“Many people with autism also have a serious intestinal problems, such as diarrhea and irritable-bowel syndrome,” Liu said. “It is consistent with our findings.”
Further research found that using antibiotics or beneficial bacteria can improve the social behavior and life spans of some KDM5-deficient flies.
“Former studies about autisms usually focused on genetics,” Liu said. “We are looking forward to opening a new road for human autism therapy from the perspective of human digestion and the immune system.”
The research results were published in the latest issue of Cell Host & Microbe, a top international journal in the microbiology field.