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Brain-gut connection in autism

Jan. 9, 2014, 11:00 AM


Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are a common source of distress in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the relationship between GI symptoms and autism-related behavior is unclear. Clinical experience suggested to Brittany Peters, M.D., Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., and colleagues that rigid-compulsive behaviors are associated with severe constipation and co-occurring diarrhea or underwear staining in children with ASD.

Using data from the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, the investigators evaluated the association of these GI symptoms with measures of rigid-compulsive behavior in children ages 2 to 17. They found that four of five primary measures of rigid-compulsive behavior were strongly associated with constipation and diarrhea/underwear staining.

The association, reported in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, could point to a common biological pathway that impacts both the brain and the gut. As part of a federal Autism Intervention Research Network grant, the investigators are now evaluating the relationship between the serotonin system and GI symptoms in ASD.

This research was funded in part by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, the Health Resources and Services Administration Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health, and by the National Institutes of Health (MH094604).

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