Results suggest that maternal diet-induced changes in the gut can affect offspring social behavior and that single species reconstitution of Lactobacillus reuteri can rescue these deficits. Furthermore, they add to a growing literature showing that the gut microbiome is an important player when it comes to behavior and that probiotics may hold therapeutic potential for the treatment of behavioral symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Human epidemiological studies have shown that maternal obesity increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring. The same has been found in non-human primates. In addition, many ASD patients co-present with gastrointestinal disorders, suggesting that they may have an imbalance in gut microbiota which contributes to their intestinal issues.
The promise of our work lies in the finding that a single bacterial species, Lactobacillus reuteri, was able to reverse social behavioral deficits in maternal high-fat diet offspring. Not only did it restore the behavioral symptoms, but when we looked at the brains of the treated animals, we found that it also increased oxytocin levels. Several studies have suggested that oxytocin plays an important role in modulating social behavior, not only in rodents, but in humans. Our findings suggest that Lactobacillus reuteri could prove to be useful as a novel, low-risk probiotic for treatment of behavioral symptoms associated with ASD.